Battle of Coral Sea leads to Midway: A comeback for U.S. Navy

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By Rear Adm. John Fuller
Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific

Seventy-five years ago today, May 12, 1942, American submarines inflicted the final major casualties of the Battle of the Coral Sea, a fight that tested the skill of our Navy on, under and above the sea.

The Battle of the Coral Sea etched names in our history and heritage: Rear Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher, Lt. “Jo Jo” Powers, Lt. Milton Ricketts, Dauntlesses Devastators aircraft (VB 2, VB 5, VS 2, VS 5, VT 2, VT 5), USS Hammann (DDG 412), USS Neosho (AO 23), USS Lexington (CV 2) and USS Yorktown (CV 5).

A mushroom cloud rises after a heavy explosion on board USS Lexington (CV 2), May 8, 1942. This is probably the great explosion from the detonation of torpedo warheads stowed in the starboard side of the hangar, aft, that followed an explosion amidships at 5:27 p.m. Note USS Yorktown (CV-5) on the horizon in the left center, and destroyer USS Hammann (DD 412) at the extreme left. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)
A mushroom cloud rises after a heavy explosion on board USS Lexington (CV 2), May 8, 1942. This is probably the great explosion from the detonation of torpedo warheads stowed in the starboard side of the hangar, aft, that followed an explosion amidships at 5:27 p.m. Note USS Yorktown (CV 5) on the horizon in the left center, and destroyer USS Hammann (DD 412) at the extreme left. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

The enemy sank our aircraft carrier USS Lexington and so badly damaged another carrier, USS Yorktown, they thought it too was lost.

But the carrier, captain and crew were tough, resilient and determined. And so was our Navy.

On May 27, Yorktown made it back into the Pearl Harbor channel and eased into drydock at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, met by Adm. Chester Nimitz, who conducted an immediate inspection.

Back then, Sailors and civilians were still in recovery mode after the attacks of Dec. 7, 1941. Shipyard workers were repairing hulls, propellers and pumps on damaged ships.

Simultaneously, ashore at what is now known as Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, preparations were underway for the battle that would turn the tides in America’s favor in the war in the Pacific.

While Imperial Japan felt emboldened and confident after the destruction the Japanese inflicted to our Pacific Fleet battleships, we were quietly getting ready to engage in multiple domains, including cyber, through codebreaking.

At Station Hypo in Building One, Navy code breakers, led by Lt. Cmdr. Edwin Layton and Lt. Cmdr. Joe Rochefort, provided intelligence to Nimitz about the enemy’s plans to attack Midway Atoll. The surprise, combined with luck and courage, would give the Americans the edge despite the armada they faced at Midway.

Meanwhile, at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, workers, who had already been working for months to salvage, recover and repair warships in the harbor, would have to perform a miracle for Yorktown.

View of damage on USS Yorktown’s third and fourth decks, amidships, caused by a 250 kilogram bomb hit received during the Battle of Coral Sea. This view looks forward and to starboard from the ship's centerline at frame 110. The photographer is in compartment C-301-L , shooting down through the third deck into compartment C-402-A. The large hole in the deck was made by the bomb's explosion. Many men were killed or badly injured in C-301-L, a crew's messing space that was the assembly area for the ship's engineering repair party. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)
View of damage on USS Yorktown’s third and fourth decks, amidships, caused by a 250 kilogram bomb hit received during the Battle of Coral Sea. This view looks forward and to starboard from the ship’s centerline at frame 110. The photographer is in compartment C-301-L , shooting down through the third deck into compartment C-402-A. The large hole in the deck was made by the bomb’s explosion. Many men were killed or badly injured in C-301-L, a crew’s messing space that was the assembly area for the ship’s engineering repair party. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

Nimitz ordered the ship to be ready in three days.

According to historian Thomas Cutler, “Civilian yard workers swarmed aboard armed with a different arsenal of war – hammers, acetylene torches and the like – and soon the ship echoed with a cacophony of frantic but purposeful activity. Working around the clock in temperatures sometimes reaching 120 degrees, these workers labored in an eerie world of pulsating light, choking smoke, pungent fumes and a racing clock. Three days later, the resurrection was complete. Yorktown steamed down the channel, headed for sea and ‘rendezvous with destiny,’ civilian workers spilling from her insides into small boats alongside as she went.”

Cutler said the U.S. Navy’s victory at the Battle of Midway is shared by those workers here at Pearl Harbor. “The miracle began when others fought exhaustion and the clock to do the seemingly impossible.”

Japanese facilities burning on Tanambogo Island, east of Tulagi, Aug. 7, 1942 – the Battle of Guadalcanal invasion's first day. This view looks about ESE, with Gavutu Island to the right, connected to Tanambogo by a causeway. Small island to the left is Gaomi. The Florida Islands are in the distance. Photographed from an SBD aircraft based on one of the supporting U.S. aircraft carriers. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)
Japanese facilities burning on Tanambogo Island, east of Tulagi, Aug. 7, 1942 – the Battle of Guadalcanal invasion’s first day. This view looks about ESE, with Gavutu Island to the right, connected to Tanambogo by a causeway. Small island to the left is Gaomi. The Florida Islands are in the distance. Photographed from an SBD aircraft based on one of the supporting U.S. aircraft carriers. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

The war in the Pacific started in Pearl Harbor and so did the comeback.

After Midway, our Sailors and Marines continued to fight across the Pacific and northward from Guadalcanal, eventually defeating Imperial Japan and setting the stage for greater freedom, democracy and prosperity.

Editor’s note: Fuller is finishing up his tour as commander of Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific. He is slated to become commander of Carrier Strike Group 1 this summer.


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Battle of Coral Sea leads to Midway: A comeback for U.S. Navy

Midshipmen Shine Light on Life as Military Kids

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Photo: Navy full back Noah Copeland rushes during the 113th Army-Navy game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa., Dec.8, 2012. The Navy won 17-13, extending their winning streak against Army for the 11th straight year. D0D Photo by Marvin Lynchard

Navy full back Noah Copeland rushes during the 113th Army-Navy game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa., Dec.8, 2012. The Navy won 17-13, extending their winning streak against Army for the 11th straight year. (D0D photo by Marvin Lynchard/released)

Story by: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Bryan Niegel, Defense Media Activity

Edited by Erin Wittkop

As we wrap up “Month of the Military Child,” I would like to reflect on the unique lives of military kids. Military children come from all walks of life and make a pretty fantastic contribution to our country as a result of their unique experiences.

These kids are faced with some major life challenges beginning at young ages. They have to deal with being separated from their parents for extended periods of time, not knowing if their mom or dad is safe, frequent moves and an ever-changing social landscape as they enroll in new schools and work to make new friends. Whether their parents joined after their birth or they were born to active-duty military parents, military kids own life stories begin to branch out in new and worldly ways the moment their parents don a uniform.

I recently had the chance to interview a few military children whose lives have been shaped by their parents’ service. They aren’t your average military kids, though; these “children” are students attending the United States Naval Academy and are players on the Navy Midshipmen football team.

These three athletes grew up as military children, yet came from different backgrounds and established their association with military life at different junctures in their lives.

“My dad wasn’t always gone but he left to Korea when I first started playing flag football; that was kind of hard. As a young kid you really don’t understand why your dad left,” said Midshipman Noah Copeland. “I didn’t understand anything he did until later on when I grew up.”

When Copeland was old enough to realize what his dad was doing and why he grew to have a greater admiration for his father and what he did for the family.

“Seeing my dad wake up early and come home really late, working those long hours just to provide for us, made me appreciate him more. Looking at it now [and reflecting on the person I’ve become], I appreciate him a lot more for everything that he did [to help me get where I am today].”

Coming from a different background and part of the country, Midshipman Shakir Robinson was a little different.

“I caught the tail end of my dad’s military career” Robinson said “[As a result of his military background,] my dad expected higher standards of me.”

Even though he had only spent a few years as a military child he still came out with a strong sense of respect and high expectations for himself, qualities that most would find exceptional for a person his age. I noticed this difference during the interview. Robinson carries himself with a poise that alludes to the reverence with which he regards service, duty, tradition and helping others. His teammates had it, too.

“It’s made me have a greater respect for people in the military,” Robinson added. He is inspired by the level of love that service members have for their country and the personal sacrifices that they are willing to make like being away from their families during deployments.

With a little more time as a military child, Midshipman Joe Cardona’s dad had to miss special occasions while he was going up.

“It was hard not having him there for football practices and sports practices. My mom was real strong; she just made everything normal for us,” Cardona said.

Despite the fact that his dad wasn’t always there for practices and events, Cardona still holds his dad in the highest regard.

“My military hero would be my dad. The way he balanced his military career with raising a family, I think that is something that I will always treasure and something that I will take as an example to try to set and to follow,” said Cardona.

After speaking with these military kids and soon-to-be service members, I have found a new respect for military children. There are not many kids in the world that have to deal with the unique stressors that military kids do and it’s amazing to see how resilient they become as result of it all. The strong bonds that they forge with their families and the values that they hold dear are awe inspiring.

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Disclaimer: The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense of this website or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation sites, the Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations. Such links are provided consistent with the stated purpose of this DoD website.

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Armed with Science Saturday: Like Robot, Like Human

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I think it goes without saying that humans are flawed.

<pause for dramatic effect>

I know.  It’s a shocker.

So when we think of the things humans are capable of doing, there’s always a margin of error, isn’t there?  There’s always some bell curve that factors in because we know that we’ve got our short comings.  We’re not perfect.

Which is weird, since we are constantly asking the machines we build to be.  Especially the ones that awe and fascinate us the most.

Yeah, I’m talking about robots.

Up until now, the concept of a perfectly constructed robot was just that; a concept.  

Cyberman Robot courtesy photo copyright BBC

Such a KIND face… (Cyberman, Copyright BBC)

Our movies and video games tend to depict robots as these inhuman goofy types, or seething, wrathful, intrinsically flawed things that either take on far too many human traits (Cylons) or not NEARLY enough (Cybermen).  In any case, our creative little minds tend to presume that robots are going to lean to the extremes.

But that’s just fun fiction.

However…

What if I told you that there was a process being developed that allowed scientists to implant a very human like thinking process into a very non-human robot brain?  Would you panic?  Because if so, I’d stop reading now.  And maybe seek out some calming tea.  Or professional help, depending on the severity.

Because it’s really happening, folks, and it’s going to change the way we think about Artificial Intelligence in a number of ways.

It’s called the Adaptive Character of Thought-Rational architecture, or ACT-R, courtesy of the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL).  So what does it do?

According to the recently released White Paper, a cognitive architecture is a set of computational modules that, working together, strive to produce human-level intelligence.

I’m just going to let that sink in for a minute there.

“But wait,” I hear you saying, “didn’t you start off this blog talking about how humans are flawed?”

Yes.  I did.  That’s what makes this all the more exciting.  They’re not trying to create the perfect, godlike deathbots of SciFi lore and repute.  Rather, they’re creating a synthetic version of people, so to speak.

No, wait!  Don’t panic.  Let me explain.

Thinking like a person means thinking imperfectly.  We remember things strangely.  Our memories degrade over time.  We let our emotions guide us.  Humans are driven by patterns and associations and experience over facts and deductive reasoning.

As it turns out, that’s exactly what these scientists are trying to capture.

The Soar architecture uses a modest set of building blocks to achieve human intelligence, including different types of memories (procedural, semantic, episodic) and different types of learning (reinforcement, chunking, semantic learning, episodic learning).

Learning is the key point there.  Not retaining information in a database, but actually learning.

These scientists are using ACT-R and ACT-R/E (Adaptive Character of Thought-Rational/Embodied (ACT-R/E) architecture) to build better, more comprehensive models of human cognition and leverage these models to improve the robot’s ability to interact with humans.  So why is this architecture so unique?

Because it’s designed to model human mentality by placing an emphasis on the limitations of human cognition.

These robots are trying to “get us” down at our level.  Well, that’s an interesting idea.  But before you act insulted, consider this: the argument is that robots who understand people are, ultimately, better teammates and more natural computational agents.  I guess they have to be able to think like us in order to be efficient and productive for us.

Not to get too philosophical on you, but what does it really mean to think like a human?

It all comes down to how we remember things.

For example, say you meet someone for the first time at a party.  They tell you their name, and if you aren’t completely disinterested in them you will likely try to remember it.  When a person remembers something, they do so by using a series of patterns.  Your mind will try to tie the new information (the name) to defining factors (face, voice, clothing, etc).

When you see this person again, you try to use certain trigger cues.  You see the hair, or the face or smell the perfume and your brain tries to tie the new information (the name) to those things.  Priming from contextual clues could provide the boost you need in memory activation, and the earlier rehearsal of associating those things together would likely be enough for you to remember the name of this person.  Ideally.

Then again, we’re not perfect.  You might end up calling them by the wrong name a few more times before it sticks.

Anyway, the ACT-R works insomuch the same concept.  When the robot (or model, as they call it) is introduced to new information like this, it uses a similar structured pattern to remember things.  So this information is not just being dumped into a memory bank as raw data to be regurgitated on command.

Rather, it becomes a piece of information that’s associated with other things.

Octavia the robot and human escort (Naval Research Lab courtesy photo)

Octavia and a human escort (photo courtesy of the Naval Research Lab)

At a high level, ACT-R is a hybrid symbolic/subsymbolic production-based system.  That means everything is connected to everything else in order to create a memory.

How do they do this?  By using a system called Specialized Egocentrically Coordinated Spaces, or SECS.  This enables human-like, cognitively plausible spatial reasoning.

This architecture is more than just retaining information as it comes in.  As we all know, our bodies tend to function as a whole; that is, memory retention is often a result of the sum of our parts.

The ACT-R/E model is designed to act as a consumer of visual information provided by external visual systems.  Senses – like sight, sound, environment – all play a part in how we absorb and interpret information around us.  This architecture wants the robot to get that full memory-making experience as well.

One of the recent threads in cognitive science has been embodied, or grounded, cognition.

The focus has been on showing that the body has a major role in shaping the mind.  When the motor and visual modules participate fully in the spreading of contextual activation, it is possible for a robot to learn which objects are best grasped with which motor commands.

Basically, these robots have the capacity to “understand” all their working parts, and those parts can work together to form information.  So if it talks like a human and thinks like a human, that doesn’t mean it is a human.

Speaking of us living, breathing specimens…

There are some things about these robots that deviate from the standard human procedure.  Things like fatigue, emotional instability, unpredictability, sleepiness, weepiness, derpiness, they’re all intrinsically human aspects.  Aspects that robots have no real reason to contend with, though that hasn’t stopped some SciFi writers from exploring the possibility of having depressed, mopey robots.

The results of that concept I’d say are…mixed.  

Anyway, that doesn’t mean these robots cannot be taught how to approach humans by understanding what makes them so crazy *ahem* interesting.  The high-level goal behind this is to give robots a deep understanding of how people think at the process level in order to make them better teammates.

They’re doing this by equipping robots with the functionality to understand human behavior – like right vs wrong – and use that information to act accordingly.  Skeptical?  Well, so was I.  I mean, how does a robot know the difference between right and wrong when philosophers have been making a living debating that very idea for centuries?

Turns out, in this case it’s more of a holistic approach to situation and crisis.  Noticing how humans tend to make mistakes in predictable ways, for example, can set a standard, or watching how their eyes move when they retrieve memories.

By developing robots that further understand how people think – including errors – they can leverage these models as tools for robots to use as they encounter humans in the world.

For example, the scientists put a robot to work on a serious project: playing hide-and-seek.  Given the fact that the ATC-R is designed to learn and understand, the robot was able to grasp the concept of the game fairly quickly.  The model was in fact able to mimic the outward behavior of the person, perfectly matching the hiding behavior.

That sounds small, but it’s really a big, big deal.  The robot was also able to play a credible game of hide and seek against a human.  Think about that.

Don’t believe me?  See for yourself:

Just when you thought you’ve seen it all, eh?  It’s like watching the early stages of robot evolution take place.

This architecture is designed with a Theory of the Mind (ToM) concept.  That is, the ability to understand beliefs, desires, and intentions of others.  So why give the robots this empathetic concept?  ToM is used to improve the robot’s ability to interact with people.  This is pertinent because research in psychology has shown that without ToM, people can be severely impaired in their abilities to interact naturally with others.  Apparently, the same goes for robots.

Simply put, robots are a little freaky when they’re disregarding of these things.

So why all of this, you wonder?  Why give robots the ability to think like humans, consider their intentions, and learn to play well with us?  Well, why else do you train?  For the mission.  These robots are being designed to be good teammates to people.  To help them.  To perform missions.  Just like us, they are given a task – like fighting fires for example – and they need to be the best equipped to complete that task to the best of their ability.

In this case, learning how to help humans means having a better robo-understanding of them.  The best part?  This is only the beginning.  The road to good, embodied cognitive models has been and continues to be long, but the scientists at NRL say it’s going to be well-worth the effort.

I guess you know how the old saying goes…

To err is human.  To learn how to err is robot. 

Jessica L. Tozer is a blogger for DoDLive and Armed With Science.  She is an Army veteran and an avid science fiction fan, both of which contribute to her enthusiasm for technology in the military.

Special thanks to the Naval Research Laboratory for providing the information and general awesomeness factor needed for this story.

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Disclaimer: The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense of this website or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation sites, the Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations. Such links are provided consistent with the stated purpose of this DoD website.

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