ST. GEORGE — Pine View High School’s Air Force Junior Officer Training Corps added to recent accomplishments by earning the prestigious “distinguished unit with merit award” last spring.

Pine View’s Air Force JROTC won the statewide CyberPatriot cybersecurity competition and will be competing in nationals, St. George, Utah, Jan. 18, 2024 | Photo by Haven Scott, St. George News

The awards kept coming as their CyberPatriot team took the state championship in December, besting the Utah Military Academy and Wasatch High School teams who came in second and third place.

Pine View’s Air Force JROTC unit, known for their community service and color guard detail at many city events, also provides cadets with eight specialized before- and after-school teams.

“One such team is CyberPatriot,” said Ginger Lee, Pine View’s cybersecurity team leader. “Its purpose is to inspire students toward careers in cybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines critical to our nation’s future. It’s also an environment perfect for fostering future cyber employment opportunities and college scholarships.”

CyberPatriot competitions were held at the state level Dec. 7-11, 2023. Nationwide, Pine View cadets are putting their skills to the test Jan. 19-20 as a result of winning in Utah.

Lee noted the varsity team not only placed best in state but also seventh nationally in the platinum tier — the highest of three competition tiers — shattering their initial goal of becoming a top 20 CyberPatriot team nationwide.

Pine View Air Force JOTC CyberPatriot team leader Ginger Lee said the team is ranked seventh in the nation out of all high school programs competing, St. George, Utah, Jan. 18, 2024 | Photo by Haven Scott, St. George News

The Pine View CyberPatriot cadets are divided into three teams by experience level: Alpha, Byte and Chip. Each team has four categories the cadets specialize in: three different computer systems and one CISCO networking module.

“The cadets huddled in December to spend a school day, cracking down on the computer’s vulnerabilities for competition, and came out victorious when the final scores were announced,” Lee said. “With hard work, determination and a little luck, we may get to be one of the 13 teams to travel and compete in the national finals.”

Pine View’s CyberPatriot team is open to touring local tech businesses in the future, if the opportunity should present itself, she added.

“This was a great experience that has encouraged me to find additional opportunities for my team to learn, grow and compete,” Lee said. “I already have plans to involve my team with CodeCamp, Tech Ridge tech lunches, and even take possible field trips to Silicon Valley’s server rooms.”

Jeremy Barrett, chief engineer at Hurricane-based Tech Brothers, supervises the youth cybersecurity program at Pine View AFJROTC. He said he doesn’t do much, in terms of logistical planning, code writing, python programming, event organization and practicing for tournaments — the cadets do it all.

Pine View cadet Noah Zontini scored highest nationally in networking skills at the statewide CyberPatriot competitions, St. George, Utah, Jan. 18, 2024 | Photo by Haven Scott, St. George News

“In terms of support, I’m here to answer any questions,” he said. “Winning a state championship is all about them, they did everything.”

During the statewide competitions, Pine View cadet Noah Zontini scored highest nationally in networking skills heading into the upcoming competition.

“Not many who chose cybersecurity want to do networking,” Barrett said. “It is a lot of work, you have to put in a lot of time and effort to get the CISCO certifications. But it will look great on his resume.”

According to the military website, CyberPatriot is a national youth education program created by the Air and Space Forces Association to educate K-12 students of the career opportunities in cybersecurity.

“​At the core of the program is the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition, the nation’s largest cyber defense competition that puts high school and middle school students in charge of securing virtual networks,” the CyberPatriot website states.

L-R: Randy Pino, Chester Peirce, Cole Mickleson, team leader Ginger Lee, Noah Zontini, Laureson Walker, Jeremy Barett, Mariah Staheli, Melissa Loredo Cruz from the Pine View High School AFJROTC CyberPatriot team, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy Ginger Lee, St. George News

Other programs include Air Force Association CyberCamps, the CyberPatriot Alumni Network, an elementary school cyber education initiative, a children’s literature series, CyberGenerations — a senior citizen cyber safety initiative, and a caregivers program designed to encourage cyber-savvy volunteers to give back to their communities.

CyberPatriot Director of Business Operations Rachel Zimmerman told St. George News during the state and semi-finals of the national competitions, the teams compete online from their home schools.

For the CyberPatriot finals, sponsored by the United States military and held in March, the top 13 teams will travel to Bethesda, Maryland in their attempts to secure the title of national cybersecurity champion, Zimmerman noted.

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