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A road less traveled -- Commanders take unorthodox paths to leadership

835th Cyberspace Operations Squadron Shield

835th Cyberspace Operations Squadron Shield

Joint Base San Antonio - Lackland, Texas -- JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas--When Lt. Col. Marckenson Dieujuste passed the 835th Cyberspace Operations Squadron guidon to then Maj. Judson Dressler, it echoed a transfer of authority that has been carried out countless times across all branches of the US military.

However, while the January ceremony held at Scott Air Force Base , Illinois, may have followed tradition, neither the outgoing or incoming Airmen had taken a traditional path to squadron command.

For Dieujuste, his road to command began like many others officers, through the Reserve Officer Training Corps.  After earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering at Rutgers University and being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force, he reported to Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, where he served with the 83rd Communications Squadron.  It was at his following assignment at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome, New York, that the St. Marc, Haiti native was presented with a different career path when he applied for, and was accepted into, the National Security Agency’s highly selective Computer Network Operations Development Program.

“It's an NSA internship program that at the time had four to eight slots allocated to all military members across all four branches of the service,” he said. “It's a three year program. The first three to four months are core training to get your baseline on how to develop different capabilities. After that, you spend the rest of your time moving from different offices, spending six to nine months in each office. At the end of the program, they bring the entire class together to work on a tough problem that the agency is looking to get solved.”

On completing the internship, Dieujuste’s next assignment was with the 39th Information Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida, which introduced him to the world of training.

“And that's where I got convinced that regardless of the war-fighting domain, to be effective, to be able to out-maneuver near peer competitors, behind it is training,” he said.

Dressler, promoted to lieutenant colonel following the change of command ceremony, began his Air Force career as a cadet at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.  He graduated with a degree in computer science and was then selected for the Academy’s graduate studies program at the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

“Each department is able to send a few of their top graduates to get advanced degrees to eventually come back and be part of the Air Force Academy's faculty,” said Dressler.

After completing his masters’ degree, he was assigned to the 436th Communications Squadron at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, where he experienced every aspect of a communications squadron. He worked in network management, postal operations, inventory maintenance and executive support, before moving to the wing headquarters building to serve as the wing commander’s executive officer.  And then, he said, the Academy called, and he found himself like Dieujuste, back in the world of training and education.

“I taught for two years.” he said. “During those two years, I taught the introduction to computer science courses before course directing and teaching advanced cryptography.”

Sensing potential as a possible senior faculty member, the Academy leadership sponsored him for a doctorate program.  While he had concerns about being pigeonholed in the world of academia, Dressler accepted and completed his doctorate at Rice University in Houston. However, the Air Force had other plans for him.
“As I was finishing my PhD, the Air Force started to recognize that cyber was a much bigger deal,” he said, “and they started to look toward developing younger officers for the senior ranks.”

Through the newly created Cyberspace Intermediate Leadership Program, he found himself being selected for a command position.  It was here that his career path first intersected with that of Dieujuste. While his predecessor at the 835th COS was at the 39th IOS, Dressler reported as commander of 39th’s Detachment 1 here at JBSA-Lackland.

Both Dieujuste and Dressler recognized the stand out postings in their careers, and the character traits that align with the “outside-the-box” thinking that many cyber operations require. Both have backgrounds that required creative thinking and see that same attribute in the Airmen they lead.

“In fact, my best operators, that's the mindset they have,” Dieujuste said. “They need to have a strong foundation, but you have to be able to think on your feet also.”

“The cyber weapons system is not the computer. It is not the tools on the computer,” agreed Dressler. “It is the human mind. The real weapon is the ability of our cyberspace operators to critically think and adapt to new situations.”

With additional assignments under their belts before arriving at the 835th, including yet another trip back to USAFA for Dressler, the two now have their sights set on the future. For Dieujuste that future lies in a short trip across Scott AFB to US Transportation Command, though he recognizes the people within the squadron who made it possible to do his job as commander.

“I'll be honest,” he said. “When I came here I was all about the mission. Programs, training programs and different initiatives I needed to put in place to make sure that we're the most effective fighting force. But ultimately when I look back on this experience, I think the people that I've met, I've had a chance to impact will be what I take away from this experience.  I've learned from them a lot of times. You know, in some of these leadership positions, the expectation is you're the one pouring into the folks under your command.  I’ve been blown away by the poise and resilience exhibited young Airmen dealing with tough family situations as well the ingenuity they shown to tackle obstacles they encounter on mission.  I feel honored to have worked with such an amazing group of Airmen.

“You hear a lot about threat actors and what our adversaries are doing. In the end, I think we will be successful because of the persistence we've shown and our determination. I've seen that in my time here with this squadron.”

For Dressler, his future lies with those Airmen he now leads.

“I got here three weeks ago and I started hearing about the successes they’ve had,” he said. “Whether it's the host or the network, they can pick out advanced adversary tactics, techniques, and procedures. It goes back to the people. Our tools are going to change. I need the people with the proper mindset to push us further. So to me, the main goal is to really focus on the people and get them ready for what that next stage is.”

The Gunslinger ethos asserts that 67th Cyberspace Wing Airmen are creative and innovative, with unyielding determination; that they believe in bold, audacious action and courageous, inspirational leadership; and that human beings are more important that hardware.  All qualities that both Dieujuste and Dressler have demonstrated and encouraged within their teams.