Career Profile: Marine Cyber Network Operator

Engineer workplace

Cyber Network Operator is the Marine Corps' latest name for data network specialists in military occupational specialty (MOS) 0651. I, for one, am a big fan of the post-millennium tendency toward putting "cyber" into the names of as many high-tech military jobs as possible to make them sound more threatening.

Duties and Responsibilities

When legendary Marine Lieutenant General Lewis "Chesty" Puller (goodnight, wherever you are) said that "Paperwork will ruin any military force," I'm sure he didn't think the solution would be to move to data networking.

Nevertheless, we are living in the 21st century, and the Corps uses a variety of data networks, even in the field, to stay connected. 0651s are there to set up the hardware, install the software, configure the network, and keep it running.

According to the Marine Corps MOS Manual, cyber network operators work with "Microsoft based curriculum on MS Exchange/Server, CISCO Certified Network Associate (CCNA) modules . . . evaluate and resolve customer information systems problems, and effect required hardware upgrades and repair to maintain mission capability."

Like many higher-tech jobs in the Corps, 0651s don't live in a vacuum, and may often have to coordinate their activity with outside contractors who provide network packages and services to the military. While this does add to the amount of time you may spend in the Marines sitting on hold with tech support, view it as an opportunity to develop nifty bullet points for your civilian resume with keywords like "collaborate," "inspired," and "operated telephones without violent incident."

Military Requirements

Basic requirements for becoming an 0651 include US citizenship and passing a background check that shows you're eligible for at least a secret-level security clearance. This is intended to ensure that sensitive information passing through Marine Corps networks is handled only by trustworthy Marines who don't have any "dirt" like bad credit (or bad friends) that could be used to turn them to the dark side.

Entry-level Marines must also have a high school diploma and pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) with a general technical (GT) score of 110 or up.


After earning the title "Marine" at the Corps' Recruit Depots in Parris Island, South Carolina or San Diego, California, and completing Marine Combat Training, prospective 0651s move on to technical school at Marine Corps Air/Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California.

Once there, Marines are assigned to the Data Training Section of Company B, Marine Corps Communication Electronics School, and expected to attend an eight-week course. According to the American Council on Education's Military Guide, "[t]opics include computer network fundamentals, computer operating systems, network switches and routers, TCP/IP protocols, messaging, network operating systems, network systems troubleshooting, and client/server operating systems." College-minded enlistees (that should be all of you, according to me and every superior I've ever had in the service) may be able to transfer the experience into several computer networking credits toward a degree, depending on policies at their institution of choice.

Journeyman Apprenticeship

As a cyber network operator, you may apply for the United Services Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP) and become certified as a journeyman computer programmer, computer operator, or internetworking technician.

I'm not making that last one up -- check it out on USMAP's self-service website if you don't believe me -- and I like it because it sounds like a title made up by someone who also says things like "The Facebook" or "The YouTubes."

Career Outlook

With further training, 0651s may receive up to two extra MOS designators. With regional schooling available on both coasts as well as Japan, data Marines can learn to become Certified Authority Workstation (CAW) operators (MOS 0652) which has something to do with generating and managing digital security certificates. I won't pretend to understand that enough to explain in detail. (Look, don't expect too much from me. At least I can figure out how to code these articles before I unleash them on you, my poor unsuspecting public.) They may also return to Twentynine Palms (hooray) for another three weeks to earn MOS 0653, Defense Message System (DMS) specialist: They specialize in composing, encoding, sending, and receiving secure messages used to communicate information between different commands.

Upon promotion to staff sergeant (E-6), Marines that stay in the cyber track are given MOS 0659, Cyber Network Systems Chief, and return to Twentynine Palms for further training. If you make that many trips to Twentynine Palms, you're also expected to be able to name each of the 29 palm trees by sight. (Hint: Herbert is the short one that bends at a funny angle.)