By Matthew A. Ward
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va (Reuters) - Sergeant Michael Kidd considered cyberspace a hobby before he joined the Marines in 2003, but he hopes to make it his new battlefield after suffering debilitating injuries in Iraq.
At the naval air station in Virginia Beach, Virginia, the 26-year-old from Williamsburg has been retraining to fight cyber threats, one of a number of wounded warriors making the transition to non-traditional combat fields.
"Electronic warfare has become a major player," Kidd said. "If you can get the information out of the hands of the terrorists, that's half the battle right there."
The Department of Defense has solidified its approach to cyber-warfare, recognizing in a report last year that cyberspace is a domain for military operations similar to land, air, sea and space.
At stake are more than 15,000 defense computer networks and seven million computing devices across hundreds of installations in dozens of countries. Civilian targets including power grids and financial systems are also vulnerable, experts say.
Kidd expects to be medically retired from the Marine Corps after post-traumatic stress disorder and shoulder injuries from two roadside bomb blasts in Iraq set back his military career, but wants to continue serving.
He has enrolled in an accredited cybersecurity program run by ECPI University, part of a Pentagon initiative aimed at getting injured service members back into the military or the civilian workforce.
Other programs also support wounded veterans looking for a transition into other areas of military or civilian life.
Operation Warfighter, a defense program, places recuperating service members in internships with the FBI, National Security Agency, Department of Homeland Security and other agencies, said Captain Jill L. Wolf, spokeswoman for the Wounded Warrior Regiment.
The program has 515 active internships for wounded veterans making the often difficult transition to new positions, program manager Patrick Brick said, adding that it was hard to quantify how many were related directly to cybersecurity.
"There are not a lot of warriors who are able to make that transition easily, from Marine on the ground in Afghanistan to cybersecurity back home ... (but) that's where we're trying to provide some more training opportunities," Brick said.
Under the G.I. Bill, which pays for veterans to further their education, many former service members train for work such as policing and nursing, said Keith Wilson, education service director for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"They're still serving their county in those fields," Wilson said.
Theresa Boyd, assistant director of the VA's Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program, said a large number of veterans also were training in the information technology field.
"At least 60 percent of those that we place end up in technical, managerial and professional jobs, which would include jobs in the I.T. sector," Boyd said.
Bob Larned, ECPI University's executive director of military education, said cybersecurity provided favorable job prospects for wounded veterans, including with private contractors.
For instance, Navy Cyber Force, one of several units under the U.S. military's Cyber Command, employs almost 600 people at its Virginia Beach headquarters, according to its website.
Wounded veterans also hold an advantage over other applicants in the cyber security job market by having security clearance, which has a shelf life of "between two to 10 years," Larned said.
Kidd said he was happy for the chance to turn his interest in computers into an alternate career path now that he can no longer do the more labor intensive jobs in the Marine Corps.
He has completed the 24-week cybersecurity course and said he hopes to work for a government agency or a contractor that supports such an agency after he passes two more required exams.
"The computer world has changed a lot since I used to be into it, but I'm picking things up pretty quickly," Kidd said.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and David Bailey)