In his 16 years in the Air Force, cyber systems operator Tech. Sgt. Kanakaokekai Namauu has enjoyed working in a rapidly changing career field that's pushed him to keep on top of the latest changes in cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
"As tech changes, the threats change too," Namauu said. "I've got to keep my skills sharp."
But technology isn't the only thing changing. The 35-year-old Namauu, who is now in the 690th Cyberspace Operations Squadron at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, is staring at retirement in four short years — and he's going to need to find a job.
In April, the new Air Force Credentialing Opportunities On-Line, or Air Force COOL, program covered the $600 cost of his Certified Information Security Systems Professional certification exam. The program streamlines certifications for nearly every Air Force AFSC.
The test was grueling and stressful, but worth it.
"They refer to it as the bar exam for IT," he said in an April 28 interview. CISSP is "pretty much the gold standard. It's the top certification you can get in the information security world. Normally, in the civilian sector, you'd be working as a chief information security officer" with that certification.
Namauu took nearly six hours to finish the 250-question computerized test. Most of the questions were multiple choice, he said, except for about 20 that were interactive. Some of those interactive questions, for example, had him map out a network and where he would put the firewalls.
One math-heavy question alone — requiring Namauu to figure out how much it would cost a company if its network was hacked and it lost business, how much various countermeasures would cost and how much they would save by deterring the hackers — took him 15 minutes to complete.
"Six hours is a long time," Namauu said.
But he passed, and he thinks his chances of getting a good job in the private sector have increased considerably. The intensive cramming he did in the two weeks before his test has also left him with new skills that make him a better airman and cyber systems operator.
And it's also very important to him that COOL will cover the cost of his recertification and refresher courses three years from now.
"Every few years, just that is saving me a good $2,000 to $3,000," Namauu said. "It'll keep continuing to pay down the line. In my mind, that's ... the real benefit of the COOL program."
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.