By Katelyn CampbellDecember 19, 2019
In the early morning while it's still dark outside, a group of Soldiers start out on a 12-mile road march. It's 4 AM when they begin their trek through a military installation in southern Kentucky, accompanied by 28-degree temperatures and snow. Each carrying a rucksack of carefully inspected equipment weighing 35-pounds, not only must they finish the course, but they also need to make it under the allotted three hours. The road march is the final requirement to graduate from the United States Army Sabalauski Air Assault School at Fort Campbell.
Most of the Soldiers present are from the 101st Division (Air Assault). Exhausted and exhilarated, 1st Lt. Rachael Rhee stands in formation alongside her fellow soldiers to receive the coveted Army Air Assault badge at the pinning-on ceremony. Standing in Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCPs) as the sun comes over the horizon, other than the patch on her shoulder, most attendees would not recognize her as the first graduate assigned to the Army's Artificial Intelligence Task Force (AITF), under Army Futures Command (AFC), and located in Pittsburgh, Pa. at Carnegie Mellon University.
The same drive and determination necessary for completing Air Assault School is just as apparent in her efforts at the AITF where she works to bring innovations in AI design to the forefront of the Army Enterprise. The parallel transition between technical and tactical proficiency, and the duality between physical stamina and modern intellect encompass not only the balance within Rhee herself, but also the necessary duality of the Total Army Force.
An "O"-dark thirty road march in the snow reflects the Warrior Ethos and a Soldier's drive to always place the mission first. But the overarching vision of the Army encompasses a much broader range of activities. As a member of the AITF, 1st Lt. Rhee has opportunities to collaborate with accomplished data scientists, network engineers, and military personnel who contribute their unique talents and skills as they solve the world's most complex problems in artificial intelligence.
Challenges like these need Soldier-scholars. The educated, analytical thinkers, and graduates who collaborate to deliver AI-enabled solutions for the Army Enterprise are dedicated to solving them. The AITF enables its members to succeed by harnessing intellectual talent with the innate qualities of strong Soldiers. Both strength and intellect are equally necessary for executing missions.
Rhee contributes to many important AI conversations, a highlight which includes when she demonstrated her work to Lt. Gen. Richardson, Deputy Commander of AFC, during his visit to the task force. She informed the General on emerging capabilities in AI and the infrastructure necessary to produce those capabilities. This scene contrasts Rhee's instruction in sling load procedures and rappelling techniques at Fort Campbell; however, both experiences seamlessly integrate her military background and experiences as an Officer with her current position working in emerging technology in support of the Army's modernization priorities.
As a junior officer, Rhee is the lead designer in building the user interface for a community-based platform for the Army and Department of Defense's data workforce called COEUS. COEUS is a central virtual location for users to gather for the optimization of sharing algorithms, uniformly stored and organized for accessibility. The COEUS infrastructure will result in an empowered team that rapidly integrates AI through utilizing data, training, and appropriate tools.
User experience is a significant consideration when developing a platform intended to facilitate collaboration and encourage information sharing. When crafting a tailored user experience, Rhee often draws on her insight from leading Soldiers in both deployed and garrison environments to provide diverse perspectives in the design implementation of COEUS. Rhee demonstrates a high-level of technical and tactical proficiency, a blend that is essential in the Army and a necessity in the AITF, to develop and apply AI capabilities at the speed of relevance.
Lt. Col. Isaac Faber, Chief Data Scientist and COEUS project lead is excited to watch Rhee's design come to life. "Designing a product that thousands of people who are defending the nation will utilize to do their job...that's a pretty significant contribution for anyone's career," Faber states.
"Rachael's work at the task force has allowed COEUS to be well-received. We don't have an equivalent her in the task force because of her unique skill set, and without her presence we'd be significantly further behind."
The AITF is exponentially stronger because it harnesses the talent of individuals like Rhee who collaborates with partners in academia, the Army Materiel Enterprise, and industry. These partnerships and teamwork play a large role in the task force's strong workforce, and that's something Rhee cherishes. "There is not a single mission or endeavor in the Army that I have completed alone," she shares. "Experiencing the power of a community of individuals who are invested in each other's success has reaffirmed my belief in the power of teams. I approach every interaction we have at the task force with the intention of building a team just as supportive as the one I benefited from at Fort Campbell."
The class is dismissed at the conclusion of the ceremony, and Soldiers congratulate each other on their accomplishment. As her teammates from the AITF walk up to shake 1st Lt. Rhee's hand, she smiles and says, "Sir, it feels good to be in my Army uniform."