The British are waiving standards to recruit cyber operators. Should the Marines do the same?

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The Marine Corps Systems Command’s Cyber Advisory Team completed its first emergency cyber acquisition as part of a new process designed to more quickly respond to the cyber warfighting needs of the force. The CAT quickly analyzes, distinguished, prioritizes and tracks cyber acquisition processes in order to provide more responsive and effective support to Marine Corps cyber forces. (U.S. Marine Corps illustration by Jennifer Sevier)

While the U.S. military refuses to make exceptions to its physical, grooming and other standards to boost the ranks of cyber operators, the British are going in the opposite direction.

The Royal Navy is waiving most of the “classic military requirements” to recruit cyber operators, Vice Adm. Jonathan Woodcock said Monday at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space symposium.

“We don’t expect them to wear uniforms,” said Woodcock, second sea lord of the Royal Navy. “We don’t require them to cut their hair. What we need is cyber operators — people who can do cyber warfare. We are refusing to be constrained by the standard requirements for all of the fleet.”

Most of the new cyber operators go into the Royal Navy Reserve, he explained. His advice to his American counterparts is to not get hung up on military formalities.

“If you want the best people you’ve got to employ the best people,” Woodcock said. “Don’t employ the worst people because they fit the mold. Don’t be an introverted organization. Be an extrovert.”

Former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter raised the possibility of the military services using “lateral entry” to allow highly skilled civilians to join as cyber operators, even if they have purple hair, tattoos or otherwise don’t meet recruiting standards.

But Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller has indicated that cyber operators should be Marines first and foremost.

Shortly after becoming commandant, Neller broached the subject of recruiting people with exceptional computer skills, but he was concerned about the possibility of waiving recruiting standards, Maj. Gen. Lori Reynolds, head of Marine Forces Cyberspace Command, said in 2016.

“Do I have to start letting guys with purple hair and earrings in?” Reynolds recalled Neller asking.

She told him no and explained why.

“You can let them in with purple hair but we’re going to shave it off anyways and plug up whatever holes they have if they’re smart enough,” she said at the time.