Captain Nate Amsden



What made you pursue ROTC and a career in the military? 

Through high school I wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement - either FBI or Secret Service. I lived in Houston, TX and there was a good school a few hours north that had a great Criminal Justice program. I applied to that school but my dad made me apply to a backup school just in case I didn't get accepted. To appease my dad, I applied to BYU. After getting accepted to both, the more it just made sense for me to go to BYU. I looked at my options and settled on a Computer Engineering Degree and Air Force ROTC, because the military was like law enforcement I told myself back then, but I could serve my country and get school paid for.

Where did you see your career going when you were a cadet?

As a cadet I absolutely wanted to be an Air Battle Manager. I learned everything I could about the job, the duties, the AWACS platform, the career path, and more. I did a summer PDT at Tinker AFB and toured the Ground Control Squadron at Luke AFB while there one summer. I was going to be an Air Battle Manager and let my career take me as it would.

Has it followed that path? How or how not?

I never even made it on that career path! After putting in my application for a rated slot (ABM only!) and receiving strong recommendations from the detachment cadre, I received a call one day from my DETCO that I had not been selected because the board had seen my computer engineering degree. The board had not selected me because as soon as they had seen my degree, they denied my slot because the Air Force could better use me as a computer engineer. My DETCO apologized that I was getting a "Needs of the Air Force" lesson before my career even started.

I decided that since I had a passion for Cyber Security and had attended the ACE Cyber Security Bootcamp, I would put Cyber Operations Officer as my #1 choice on my dreamsheet because the Air Force needed technical people in this new career field. Once again, the Air Force said no and made me a Computer Engineer. That didn't stop me. After my first two years at the Air Force Technical Applications Center doing Systems Engineering for the US Nuclear Detonation Detection System, I applied for and was accepted to the highly competitive Computer Network Operations Program (CNODP) at the National Security Agency. My next assignment is to the Air Force Research Lab at Wright Patterson AFB where I'll work Science and Technology R&D for Air, Cyberspace, and Space systems.

What is your current job/assignment?

I recently graduated from CNODP at NSA. It is a 3 year internship that starts with 3-4 months of int hands-on training of NSA skills and tradecraft. Following initial training, you complete 3-5 tours, 6-9 months in length with various offices across the NSA and Intelligence Community. You work as a developer/operator/analyst/planner developing and operating the tools used by NSA for its signals intelligence mission. I spent time with MUSKETEER, Cryptanalysis and Exploitation Services, the Information Assurance Directorate, Tailored Access Operations, and the Space Security and Defense Program. In my time I engineered and deployed an advanced sensor payload onto remotely piloted United States Air Force aircraft, championed the technical strategy for an interagency counterintelligence task force to track foreign spies, developed capabilities to defend against Combatant Commanders' top threats to US space systems, and other things. Currently a group of recent CNODP graduates and I are TDY to perform a cyber vulnerability analysis of the Joint Mission Planning System and how it interacts with the F-16, F-22, and B-2 platforms.

What do you like most about it (and the AF in general)?

The best part about my current assignment is the flexibility. As a member of the CNODP you are an intern and you have the flexibility to work wherever in the agency you chose. No one tells you what office to work for. However, as a CNODPer, you are expected to perform, work hard, and know your stuff. Our CNODP class worked hard during our three years to really expand the program and get CNODP out there. Now we are recognized across the Air Force as Cyber Experts and are requested for numerous projects and support. It's awesome being able to work with so many different units on their tough cyber problems!

What do you like least about it (and the AF in general)?

The biggest dislike is moving. Generally it's not so bad, but when you stack a 2.5 month TDY, PCS, 2 month TDY back to back to back, right after you sell your house and your moving plans change 5 times, it can get really frustrating! Especially when your 9 month pregnant wife and 2 year old son join you in the TLF for the 2.5 month TDY because you had already sold your house before your PCS plans changed.

Additionally there are a lot of silly things the Air Force does, both big Air Force and local units. I won't spoil the fun for you by telling you what they are :) Overall the Air Force life is great!

What surprised you most about the Air Force?

Showing up to work at a new job and being expected to know what's going on and to perform as a leader. That didn't mean you couldn't ask tons of questions to learn about systems, protocol, and how things work! In fact, it's highly recommended and almost expected!

What advice do you have for future/current cadets?

Work hard where you are now! You may think your grades now don't really matter as long as you get what you need to commission. You may think that's the case especially if you don't plan on going for a rated slot. You never know when you'll want to apply for a special job or opportunity where they will want a copy of your transcript and your GPA will be a deciding factor! Plus, working hard in ROTC will give you a good work ethic and translate into hard, effective work  in all your assignments. Your supervisors and commanders will recognize your hard work and you'll stand out among your peers. Plus America will thank you for your hard work :)

And, if you haven't caught on from my past answers...bloom where you are planted. The air force may put you down a path you didn't expect, or didn't want at first, but there are good things to do everywhere and it will be fun if you make it so!

How did ROTC prepare you for your job now?

Every semester you get a new job and are expected to perform. You read the continuity and ask questions of others who previously did the job. You have a short amount of time to get your thoughts together before you need to start showing results! On Active Duty when you get to a new job you are immediately expected to perform!

Anything else you'd like to add? 

Work hard, play hard! Make friends with your coworkers and other CGOs! And seriously, networking gets you very far in the Air Force! I'm also in LEAP for German, and I'm a National Administrative Consultant for Arnold Air Society and the previous AAS National Webmaster. Feel free to hit me up for any questions about ROTC, being an engineer, CNODP, LEAP, AAS, Air Force, anything!