One of the Army’s newest direct commissioned officers was a sergeant first class with a computer engineering degree who became a major on July 30 — a show of what’s to come as the service looks to recruit talented civilians and keep critical enlisted personnel from leaving for the private sector.
The promotion made now-Maj. Waldon W. Jue the first Army National Guardsman to direct commission as a cyber operations officer. Given the importance of the cyber domain in future conflicts, the Army doesn’t want him to be the last.
Direct commissions are “finally starting to gain some steam,” said Maj. Gen. JP McGee, head of the Army Talent Management Task Force.
Jue’s promotion “builds us out to 10 cyber officers that we’ve brought in, and we’re looking for opportunities to expand this to the rest of the Army in order to be able to bring in the talent of the nation and add it to our officer corps,” McGee said during an Association of the U.S. Army panel on Thursday.
Six of those direct commissioned officers have no prior military service, said Lt. Col. Kari McEwen, a spokeswoman for the Talent Management Task Force.
Direct commissioning is not new to the Army, but new authorities allotted to all service branches in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act allowed direct commissions up to the rank of O-6, or full colonel.
In September, the Army published its new directive guiding the direct commission process for branches and proponents. Since then, the Army Talent Management Task Force has been working with the Combined Arms Center and others to “identify technical and occupational skills gaps” in all branches and functional areas, McEwen explained.
The Army has been putting together interviews, review boards and approval processes for those positions, and the hiring timeline can take several months, according to McEwen.
“The authority to direct appoint officers was last used on this scale during World War II,” she added, echoing McGee’s sentiment that the number of direct commissions is starting to gain traction.
The cyber domain has become an increasingly important focus for recruiting and retention as cyberattacks and information operations rise on the Pentagon’s list of priorities.
“However, we are cognizant that there is much talent that exists in the private sector and if the Army is going to win the war for talent, we should seek to create opportunities for citizens to bring their talents to bear for the good of the Army and the nation,” McEwen said in an emailed statement.
Jue, who is a member of the Virginia National Guard’s 91st Cyber Brigade, was selected by the Cyber Center of Excellence to direct commission to the rank of major based on his civilian education and work experience.
The former infantryman, who has twice deployed to Afghanistan, has a bachelor of science degree in computer engineering from Virginia Tech and a master’s in systems engineering from Johns Hopkins University. He also worked for two decades in advanced technology development.
Adjutant General of Virginia Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams called Jue’s commission “a big deal.”
“You are breaking new ground in many, many ways,” Williams said during the commissioning ceremony. “Being able to direct commission soldiers who have extensive civilian and military experience like Maj. Jue provides us the opportunity to increase our cyber operations capabilities. We need that now more than ever, given the challenges we face in the information domain.”
Prior to the commissioning ceremony, Jue completed a federal recognition board with the Virginia National Guard and he will soon report to the Cyber Officer Basic Course, according to an Army news release.
“Everyone is telling me this is a big deal, a major accomplishment, and that is great to hear,” Jue said in the release. “It is also very exciting because I feel like the Army has thrown down the gauntlet and told me to do more and do better.”
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.