Rep. Will Hurd (R-Helotes) speaks at Confluence Park on Sunday to students enrolled in GhostWire Academy, an educational program aimed at teaching cybersecurity to teens.
Rep. Will Hurd (R-Helotes) speaks at Confluence Park on Sunday to students enrolled in GhostWire Academy, an educational program aimed at teaching cybersecurity to teens. Credit: JJ Velasquez / San Antonio Report

A medley of folks streamed into Confluence Park on San Antonio’s South Side Sunday: yoga pants-wearing women sat cross-legged at a pavilion, father and son tossed a baseball around, and men toting fishing rods went in search of their big catch.

But missing from the scene outdoors was a classroom of school children taking free hacking lessons from some of the U.S. military’s most skilled cyberwarriors.

The group of about 20 students aged 13 to 17 huddled inside as rain fell and listened to dignitaries – Rep. Will Hurd (R-Helotes) and Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) among them – speak to them about the role they could play in defending the country – the gravity of which is not lost on their instructors, who are doing just that.

Shaun Herron and other active military members formed GhostWire Academy to transfer the skills they are using every day at Lackland Air Force Base to the next generation of cyberwarriors.

“We’re serious about filling that gap in STEM,” said Herron, who is the president of GhostWire Academy. Herron is part of the 33rd Network Warfare Squadron of the U.S. Air Force. He’s been a military cyber professional for 19 years, he said.

GhostWire began as an informal class at San Antonio’s public libraries, Herron said, but as demand grew for the military members’ STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math – curriculum, the group began to consider formalizing its program. GhostWire became a nonprofit earlier this year, and nailed down a dedicated venue at Confluence Park, complete with 17 laptops donated by Toyota.

The first class at Confluence Park – teaching information technology fundamentals – was held July 29. Covering software, hardware, security, networking, and basic IT literacy, that class meets every Sunday at 11:30 a.m. Students obtain an IT Fundamentals certification upon completing the course and passing a CompTIA IT Fundamentals exam.

The class is now full, but GhostWire will have more offerings soon, Herron said.

GhostWire is composed of eight volunteers, Herron included. In addition to cybersecurity, its STEM programs teach kids coding and robotics. All classes are free.

Donovan Becker, who sits on the organization’s three-member board, said GhostWire is casting as wide a net as possible to fill its classrooms with teenagers gifted in STEM. Being on the South Side and near Joint Base San Antonio attracts students who are members of military families, Becker said. The organization aspires to broaden out to other areas of San Antonio and envisions the installment of several chapters throughout town.

For Hurd, the equation is simple. Programs like GhostWire are filling the training gap for students who want to learn how to ethically hack – or search for vulnerabilities in computer systems so that their security can be improved – and defend against cyberattacks.

“We are here because when the internet was built, no one was thinking about security,” Hurd said. “Learning how to protect the 0s and 1s is incredibly important. This is a skill your country needs you to master.”

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez is a columnist at the San Antonio Report. A former reporter and editor at the SA Report, he currently works as a project manager for New York City-based Advance Local.