Recruiting the American military’s cyber force is more difficult than retaining digital warriors, top Pentagon officials said during the CyberCon 2018 conference, hosted Nov. 1 by Fifth Domain.

The Marine Corps cannot compete with the private cybersecurity sector when it comes to salary, but they have an advantage when it comes to job experience and “the mission,” said Gregg Kendrick, the executive director of the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command.

“Retaining a force is tough but it is doable. Recruiting the force is significant,” Kendrick said. He explained that “when you are on mission, you almost always want to stay on mission.”

He said that one of the biggest challenges to recruiting cyberwarriors is making sure they can get a security clearance.

But he also acknowledged that the top official of U.S. Cyber Command has made force retention a priority.

General Paul Nakasone has stressed to Pentagon officials from each service the importance of “people staying within the force in order to increase readiness,” said Kendrick.

But beyond retention and recruitment, there is a disconnect between civilians and the U.S. military, said Brig. Gen. Timothy Lunderman, a special assistant at the Air National Guard.

He said that one challenge of retaining American cyberfighters was how the military can get a return on years of investment.

“When you build these ninjas that are going through two-and-a-half years of training … how do you get them to continue to allow them to serve?” Lunderman asked.

The comments come as the U.S. armed forces have struggled to have enough cyber soldiers.

The U.S. Air Force’s cyber warfare operations is only 46 percent filled, according to an Air Force Research Institute report from 2016, the most recent year available. The Department of Defense is hoping to hire 8,300 cyber positions starting this year, Brig. Gen. Dennis Crall told lawmakers Sept. 26.

Justin Lynch is the Associate Editor at Fifth Domain. He has written for the New Yorker, the Associated Press, Foreign Policy, the Atlantic, and others. Follow him on Twitter @just1nlynch.

More In IT and Networks