Once again, I was honored to do a presentation for the DHS-sponsored Center for Homeland Security and Defense: Homeland Security Masters Degree Program run out of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. This long-term, comprehensive course introduces operational leaders from law enforcement, fire fighting, emergency services, public health, and federal agencies to a wide array of issues, and propels them to intellectually “punch above their weights” in a way they makes them even bigger assets to the Nation than they were when they began.

Aside from my incredible respect for their accomplishments (most are chiefs, directors, sheriffs, captains, etc. in medium-to-large size jurisdictions), these folks are like sponges. They push one another and their instructors (who are hugely accomplished and talented as well); they demand proof and are skeptical in a healthy way.

I know this, because they pushed me. I gave them a presentation on cyber threats and importance of understanding the cyber issue set for leaders. They candidly asked how “real” the threats were. Was I certain that it was not a case of government agencies crying “wolf” to get a slice of the budget pie, and businesses joining the chorus to help them “use” the budgetary largess they obtained? One or two apologized for the push back. Frankly, I loved it and told them so.

These folks care! They were not there to accept every spoonful offered without thought or analysis. They wanted to learn, but not being neophytes, they were very comfortable demanding that their instructors do more than read the slides. It made my day.

First of all, I feel I can prove my points (bottom line: the cyber threats are real, but the sky is not falling – not today anyway), and having a dialog with fellow professionals is fun and challenging. By the end, I think I had won many over, and had at least caused the others to seriously consider the issues. That is a worthwhile accomplishment.

Second, as a citizen, I was once again gratified at the quality of people we have on every level of service protecting this land. It does not seem to matter if it is federal, state, local, or tribal; the leaders of these service organizations are bright, hard working, dedicated, and tough. If the subject is cyber, pandemics, planning, or terrorism, these folks step up. If they are unfamiliar with a subject, they want to learn. If they have experience, they will share to help others, but they want to learn still more. They are self sacrificing and a credit to their respective communities. As leaders, they are right to demand much; they know what is at stake, and they have put their own skin in the game.

Oh yes, and keep in mind, NONE of these folks are doing what they do for the pay and the glory. They get precious little of either. Still they serve. If you see a cop, a firefighter, or an EMT around, say “Thank you!” They deserve it.

Dr. Steven Bucci is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. He was previously a lead consultant to IBM on cyber security policy. Bucci’s military and government service make him a recognized expert in the interagency process and defense of U.S. interests, particularly with regard to critical infrastructure and what he calls the productive interplay of government and the private sector. Read More