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Lafayette AFJROTC Team Places Highly in Cybersecurity Competition

Members of the Lafayette CyberPatriot program and mentor Steve Baker pose for a picture.
​A group of students from Lafayette High's​ Missouri 81st Air Force Junior ROTC (AFJROTC) program placed highly in this year's edition of CyberPatriot, the Air Force Association's National Youth Cyber Defense Competition.

Cyber Lancers Team 2 earned third place in Missouri in the platinum tier, the top category of high school teams. It was the team's best finish in three years.

"This is a mile marker for the team because we haven't scored in the platinum tier since the 2016-2017 season," said Lafayette AFJROTC instructor and the team's coach, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Jim Smith. "The cadets raised the bar with the taking of the third-place position in the state."

CyberPatriot was designed to educate and motivate students toward careers in cybersecurity and other STEM disciplines. The National Youth Cyber Defense Competition challenges teams to find and resolve cybersecurity vulnerabilities in simulated environments.

Nearly 7,000 teams from the United States, Canada and abroad registered for this year's competition. Mentored by Steve Baker, Cyber Lancers 2 consisted of seniors Vrisha Jagdish – a team captain – Josh Luter and Nathaniel Reed, junior Sam Deters and freshman Dane Smola.

"Everybody has a specialization they work on," Baker said. "They research it, determine what different vulnerabilities are and do research on how to mitigate these vulnerabilities. Then, at competition time, they are given an example system that has some set of vulnerabilities in it. They have to identify the vulnerabilities and mitigate them."

Through the course of the season, the cadets also learn each other's specializations, in case one has to substitute in on the day of the competition. This is exactly what happened with the Cyber Lancers when junior Josh Staub, the other team captain, came down with the flu during the final competition in December.

Most of the Cyber Lancers joined up because they were recruited by current or former cadets. They all share an interest in computers and hope that this experience in high school will help them prepare for a job in the ever-expanding cybersecurity sector.

"I went with it to get a bit more knowledge than the average person who's going into cyber defense," Luter said. "I joined AFJROTC for the leadership part and the real-life uses of the class, too."

The Lafayette AFJROTC program teaches life skills and lessons while preparing students for life after high school. Aside from CyberPatriot, cadets have the opportunity to participate in activities such as the Academic Challenge team, drill teams, color guard teams and the Kitty Hawk Air Society.

"This class is so unique, with all the leadership skills that we develop and how we run this as a cadet-driven unit," Jagdish said. "This is so interactive 100 percent of the time. We learn how to work with other people. We learn how to deal with tasks, completing your work on time. These are things we'll be able to use when we go out into the real world."​