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Zissimos to head Cyber Squadron

Lt. Col. Anthony Zissimos, right, accepts the 108th Operations Group guidon from Col. Thomas L. Coppinger, commander, 108th Wing Operations Group, New Jersey Air National Guard, assuming command of the 140th Cyber Operations Squadron at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., July 17, 2016. Zissimos became the commander of the New Jersey Air National Guard’s newest squadron, which is charged with monitoring cyber-attacks to the nation’s computer networks, stopping the attacks, identifying the hackers, and repairing the damage. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/Released)

Lt. Col. Anthony Zissimos, right, accepts the 108th Operations Group guidon from Col. Thomas L. Coppinger, commander, 108th Wing Operations Group, New Jersey Air National Guard, assuming command of the 140th Cyber Operations Squadron at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., July 17, 2016. Zissimos became the commander of the New Jersey Air National Guard’s newest squadron, which is charged with monitoring cyber-attacks to the nation’s computer networks, stopping the attacks, identifying the hackers, and repairing the damage. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/Released)

Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst -- In a classroom in a hanger that used to house Vietnam-era F-4 Phantom fighters, Lt. Col. Anthony Zissimos assumed command of the 140th Cyber Operations Squadron July 17, 2016.

The 140th, the New Jersey Air National Guard's newest squadron, is charged with monitoring cyber-attacks to the nation's computer networks, stopping the attacks, identifying the hackers, and repairing the damage.

It is also in a unique position because like the realm it is guarding, it is evolving.

"That's the beauty of cyber, we can influence it," Zissimos said.

With the ever present threat of cyber-attacks to military computer networks, cybersecurity operations has taken on a critical role in the nation's defense. When the 108th Wing stood up the 140th in July 2015, the 108th was one of only 12 units chosen for this mission.

"The book for how to operate in cyber hasn't been completed yet," Zissimos said. "The analogy we use is flying an airplane while it is still being built."

Zissimos comes to the 140th with a wealth of command experience. In 2003, he helped stand up the first eight Air National Guard information operations squadrons. Five years later, he served as a network warfare tactics development officer with the 273rd Information Operations Squadron, Texas Air National Guard. His last assignment was as the Chief, Air National Guard Cyber Warfare Division, Air Force Space Command, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., in 2012.

That knowledge is important, because not only is this is a brand new squadron, this is a brand new mission for the NJANG.

"It means shaping a new capability for our country and our state," Zissimos said.

The squadron will consist of more than 70 personnel including full-time Airmen as well as traditional Guardsmen. Cyber operation officers and enlisted cyber operators will comprise the bulk of the squadron and will receive support from intelligence personnel and other administrative specialties.

In the meantime, the squadron is literally being built from the ground up. Airmen from other units have transferred to the 140th. Airmen are also at school. Overseeing this requires having both the knowledge and the command experience to manage this creation.

"What does command mean? For me, it means being able to pass on my 32 years of military experience to a new generation of Citizen-Airmen," Zissimos said. "It means helping mentor the future squadron commanders and senior NCOs...by letting them learn from my successes and my mistakes."

In October of 2017, the 140th Cyber Operations Squadron will become operational and will begin protecting the United States from cyber-attacks performing missions such as: defensive cyber operations, vulnerability assessments, and penetration testing in support of United States Cyber Command.

"In a couple of years from now, we will look back and say 'Wow, look what we did. We created something out of nothing,'" Zissimos said. "Make no mistake, we will succeed, because we will do it as a team."

Tech. Sgt. Armando Vasquez, 108th Wing Public Affairs, contributed to this article.