16th Air Force Airmen inspire future cyberwarriors during computer-build event

  • Published
  • By Matthew McGovern
  • 16th Air Force
Twenty cyber Airmen, from the 16th Air Force and subordinate units, joined local tech partners to help nearly 100 students build their own computers April 29, 2023, in the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology ‘Build Your Future’ event at the Tech Port Arena.

Airmen used their computer expertise to assist students, grades 8-12, from Edgewood, Harlandale, San Antonio, and South San Antonio Independent School Districts.
“I’m excited to spread this knowledge to a younger generation and show them how much of an investment it can be into themselves and their future,” said Master Sgt. Danielle Loomis, 688th Cyber Wing Network Operations Cell section chief. “My dad was in the Air Force and always had a love of computers and instilled that love with me as we built them together. Now, choosing the Air Force has allowed me to craft technological skills as a server administer.”   

Loomis and other volunteers helped students install components including motherboards, graphics processing units, and liquid coolers with a combined value of more than $2,000. The students, all with diverse knowledge and backgrounds, worked together to complete the PCs. Loomis said she wanted women to know they are not alone in the field and it’s an amazing career path.  

“My favorite part is learning how each part works together and [Loomis] was very helpful,” said Alezandra Castaneda, a sophomore from John F. Kennedy High School. “When I got stuck in some places, she helped me out and told me about her job in cyber security for the Air Force; that sounded really fun to me.”

Loomis and the other mentors showcased their military expertise and inspired students to pursue cyber in the military, with industry partners, or academia.

Castaneda said she has four family members in the military and wasn’t ruling out joining herself. Castaneda and the rest of the students completed advanced training from SAMSAT before the build.

Another student, Nicoles Alanzo, a senior from Houston High School, plans to go to University of Texas at San Antonio in the fall.    

“This will be a good resource to help when going to UTSA and I could use it when I hopefully get a job with the National Security Agency,” said Alanzo.  “I’m not able to get a computer myself so it’s great to have this experience and be able to take it home. It’s water-cooled so I’m hoping to get some experience with this and learn how to maintain it.”

For many of the students, it was their first personal computer build, and Master Sgt. Gabriel McMaster, 688th CW Security Operations section chief, said his career started the same way.

“When I first went into the Air Force, I was working on basic computer repair, but since then I got to work on multi-million-dollar computers and systems that are so much more sophisticated than the system I started with,” said McMaster. “I’ve also gone from network administration to server administration and now, twelve years later, I’m a cyber security specialist. I’ve gotten to see the entire spectrum of cyber and find my niche, but it all started with that first computer. It’s the front door to a whole world of different possibilities.”

1st Lt. Xiaoyang Wu, 367rd Cyberspace Operations Squadron, Joint Mission Operations Center watch officer, has a similar story and started tinkering with computers at age 7.

“We had a Pentium III processer back in the day, it was a couple of megahertz and I started at a very early age,” said Wu. “When I look at these kids I can see myself in them. I can see being involved in something that is new is exciting, but it also requires imagination. With cyber, everything is not concrete, everything is so fluid. You get to express your creativity and imagination but also your determination because cyber is hard. I want to inspire the youth into not only learning more about STEM but perhaps living the life of service by serving some kind of official capacity. It can be in the military, or it could be a role in industry, or working with the government.”

Jim Perschbach, Port San Antonio president and CEO, thanked those involved in the event but also shared some thoughts on the future technicians.

“We’re excited to have launched this inaugural computer build program with some terrific sponsors and partners,” said “We are very thankful to our women and men in uniform for the critical role they played as mentors to the students. Together, we are inspiring and empowering our next generation of tech talent – showing them clear pathways with the skills they are developing today and connecting them with bright futures in cybersecurity, information technology and national defense.”