Government guy eh? Clearence huh? Well you can acquire your A+ via two seperate exams from CompTIA. There is a hardware and software exam. Each are $145, at least when I took them.
Hardware essentially covers the basics from package types of older CPUs to the modern ones, to registers on a CPU, to what the Northbridge and Southbridge chipsets monitor and control. Oh and did I mention printers? Heck of a lot of questions on how to repair a printer and the parts of a printer.
Software covers everything from DOS to Windows XP. You have to know stuff here. It also covers a few questions on networking with Windows.
For both exams, I took the 2003 objectives. I am sure they updated them now to include 2003 Server and more recent OS developments. They do not cover Linux or and Unix based systems.
Cisco? Tell me you haven't heard of Cisco? How about Linksys? Linksys is owned by Cisco. Cisco is the all to know all manufacturer of high end networking systems. From high end routers, to the average Joe home router. From fiber switches to 10/100Mbps switches, these guys know how to do it. They invented protocols like EIGRP, IGRP, OSPF and they love to test you on them. If you can achieve your Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification, more power to you. I haven't taken it yet, as I lost the code to get 50% of the CCNA exam.
Good luck. Come back to me if you got any other questions.