Three years ago, sixth-grader Alex Coleman wasn't paying much attention while his older brother Zachary and his dad, Randy Coleman, were setting up laptops at their home for an international and national competition called CyberPatriot.


Since then, team members with South Aiken High School's Naval Junior ROTC unit have been active with the cyber defense competition. Alex, now a South Aiken freshman ROTC cadet, is on the “A” squad.


“I thought it was confusing before,” he said. “Then I got more interested and learning something about computers. I thought it would be pretty cool, and it's been great.”


South Aiken participates in CyberPatriot's all-service division for students in ROTC, Civil Air Patrol and Naval Sea Cadets. The objective calls for the students over a six-hour period to find and neutralize viruses or malicious software that have attacked the virtual computers that are accessible on the real laptops. Two five-person teams competed simultaneously.


Over the past three years, South Aiken reached the semi-finals and then the finals - traveling to Maryland and finishing first among all NJROTC units nationally. Last year, the teams finished second and third statewide.


The “A” team for the recent match included Alex Coleman, Ben Duncan, assistant CyberPatriot commander Lily Anzuoni, Zachary Glave and Chet Taylor. The “B” players were Carly Elijah, Anthony Williamson, Zachary Bussler, Grant Stevens and Raymond Seldon. Team commander Charlie Hand and Nathan Witebsky had conflicts and were unable to participate.


Overall, “we've got 20 excited, motivated cadets interested in learning about cyber security,” said unit commander Larry Laughlin. “We are so blessed to have Randy (Coleman) for his service as our mentor.”


Randy works in the field of cyber security for Savannah River National Laboratory. His older son graduated from South Aiken three years ago, but “the kids really get into it, and that makes it fun for me,” he said.


The results from the recent contest haven't been announced yet.


Anzuoni said the cadets participated in a competition from another program and finished seventh in the world. She has appreciated the family atmosphere in the unit and on the CyberPatriot team.


“I made the 'A' team as a freshman, and I still wonder how that happened,” Anzuoni said with a smile. “It comes more naturally now, but it is more challenging and we learn so much.”


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