This Air Force Vet Uses His Military Skills Against Healthcare Hackers

Military veteran Dustin Baker keeps cybersecurity threats at Asheville's Mission Health on lock.

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Military veteran Dustin Baker leads cybersecurity threats at Asheville's Mission Health.

When he was in middle school, Dustin Baker wrote the entire code for Pac-Man.

There’s probably a story there about a lone protagonist eating away at bits of code to eliminate an “invisible” threat.

No, actually — there’s definitely a story there.

Because as Mission Health’s senior security engineer, Dustin works behind the scenes to make sure that patients’ health information remains private and out of the hands of hackers. “There are malicious hackers out there who will do just about anything for ransom money, whether it’s doing evil to individual patients or an entire hospital system,” he says. “We are behind the scenes in network security, and if we do our job effectively, people don’t really know we’re back here doing it.”

Tour of Duty

Dustin’s road to Mission hasn’t been without its challenges. After graduating from high school in 1999, he joined the U.S. Air Force where he worked with satellite communications systems before diving into encryption and network security.

But during a tour in Turkey in 2004, Dustin was injured and lost feeling in both of his legs. “When I got back stateside and underwent MRIs, it showed one vertebra fragmented, three discs destroyed and two others with a bunch of holes in them in my lower spine,” he says. “Doctors did emergency surgery, but by that time the nerve damage to my legs was severe enough that there wasn’t anything they could do to restore feeling in them.”

Military veteran Dustin Baker leads cybersecurity threats at Asheville's Mission Health.


Wheelchair-bound and out of an active duty career, Dustin was determined to continue serving the nation. “For a couple years, I worked with the Air Force doing wireless engineering for their bombing range at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho,” he says. “That was fulfilling, but I started to miss the Asheville area where I grew up, and a position came open that I took with the 14th Weather Squadron in Asheville. I really wanted to move back to the mountains and stayed with the 14th for quite a few years.”

A New Mission

Eventually, Dustin grew interested applying his skills to the civilian sector in Asheville — specifically for Mission Health, one of the top 15 healthcare systems in the nation. Friends who worked there spoke highly of the organization, noting the robust healthcare benefits, generous PTO, onsite five-star child development center and identity theft protection program.

Those perks, along with a diverse and inclusive culture fueled by the #123forEquity pledge, made the move to Mission a no-brainer.

Military veteran Dustin Baker leads cybersecurity threats at Asheville's Mission Health.

All in the Family

But it’s not all hackers and malware for Dustin. Outside of Mission, he’s a highly regarded handcycle wheelchair racer who completes in several marathons each year, including a top 20 finish in the 2018 Boston Marathon. “Mission is very helpful about working with my schedule so I can also train for races,” he says. “I try to lead an active, normal life as well as I can, being married to my great wife, Jodie. I even drive a hand-controlled pickup truck to get back and forth to work.”

Dustin’s career at Mission is also a bit of a family affair — just ask his service dog, Kitty. “I got Kitty from one of the local shelters, and she already had that name,” he says. “I think some kid really wanted a cat and the parents came home with a dog, so they named it Kitty. Now she is a big part of my life. Kitty even has a Mission ID badge.”

This article is sponsored by Mission Health Human Resources.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jackie Gutierrez-Jones is a Livability editor covering the latest in food, drink, travel and parenting for both local and national publications. A born-and-raised Miami native, she... more

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