JOINT BASE ELLINGTON FIELD, Texas –
Joint Reserve Base Ellington Field, Texas – Army Reserve innovators gathered in Houston for a Code-A-Thon that began July 17, 2023. The intent of the Code-A-Thon was to build planning capabilities and host similar technology events in the future. The Code-A-Thon was hosted by the 75th Innovation Command with about 30 in attendance, along with members from the U.S. Army Futures Command and the XVIII Airborne Corps. The Army Reserve Soldiers leveraged their industry expertise in labeling operations; data science; and tech and engineering backgrounds to solve real-world Army problems.
Participants of the Code-A-Thon received labeling training to fine-tune large language models for future real-world applications. Training during the event covered topics such as instruction dataset generation, supervised fine tuning and evaluation of models, and tech integration.
Lt. Col. Mohammed Rashed, Artificial Intelligence team lead for the 75th Innovation Command, was the Officer-In-Charge of the Code-A-Thon. In part of his opening remarks, Rashed explained that the purpose of the Code-A-Thon was to see if participants could “train Generative AI (artificial intelligence) models. Can we bring our data labelers to help improve these large language models? And, can we produce and deliver mission outcomes?”
Rashed recalled how the AI team started out with just a handful of Soldiers participating in similar events. The 75th Innovation Command’s AI Team connected with Artificial Intelligence Integration Center and the XVIII Airborne Corps during these events and found ways to build their relationship to support the U.S. Army. The AI2C is the U.S. Army Future’s Command team which implements the Army’s Intelligence Strategy by partnering with academic, industry and other public partners for education, research and development.
Rashed and the AI team attended the “Bravo” Hack-A-Thon event in March 2023, hosted by the Department of the Air Force on Hurlburt Field, Fla. They partnered with XVIII Airborne Corps and AI2C to gain experience and shared their expertise across the Department of Defense.
“This type of tech collaboration has never been done before where we saw Army Soldiers from Active Duty and the Reserve Component getting together at a Hack-A-Thon to build a product,” said Rashed. “This gave us motivation and we decided to do a Code-A-Thon where we can concentrate our talents to build a product in a more organized and sophisticated manner.”
The Code-A-Thon was also a great opportunity for Army Reserve Soldiers to bring their industry expertise, leverage their skills towards Army “Use Cases,” and contribute to the development of innovative technologies for the Army.
“The event emphasized the 75th Soldiers’ distinct value proposition, arising from our roles both as professionals in the tech sector and as dedicated Army service members,” said Maj. Jason Kim, an AI product manager for the 75th Innovation Command. “This Code-A-Thon enables us to bridge the gap between technological advancements in our civilian jobs and the specific needs of the Army, fostering seamless collaboration with our active-duty partners.”
Kim was the AI product manager for the Code-A-Thon, overseeing the supervised fine-tuning of LLMs using military instruction datasets to execute Army tasks. “I got an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of LLMs and their potential applications within the Army.”
Kim also provided compelling insight as he spoke with the Army Reserve Soldiers during the Code-A-Thon. “How can we harness our civilian expertise towards advancing the capabilities of the Army and the broader Department of Defense?” Kim asked the attendees. “We all come from diverse tech industry experience. We have full-time roles that uniquely place us at the forefront of AI developments. The moment is here for us to lean in, share our knowledge, and translate our AI experience into advancing capabilities for the Army’s Total Force.”
The Code-A-Thon allowed the participants to brainstorm how to sift through large amounts of information that is available in the public domain, said Maj. Geoffrey Williams, a member of the 75th IC’s Big Data Portfolio Team. “It allows us to leverage emerging capabilities, such as generative AI,” Williams added.
The Code-A-Thon successfully validated the team’s hypothesis by demonstrating that supervised fine-tuning of open-source LLMs with Army data could enhance the performance of Army-specific tasks in just eight working days. While this achievement served as a pilot, it holds immense potential in delivering unique value to the Army and broader Department of Defense partners.
“This code-a-thon is a great example of innovators and operators coming together to solve warfighter problems,” said Jock Padgett. “We gained ground on understanding the use of large foundation models in operational scenarios, the good and bad. This team’s work was foundational to understanding our direction for future use and development of large foundation models." Padgett is the Chief Technology Officer for the XVIII Airborne Corps.
Army Reserve Soldiers with experience in product management, data science, machine learning, engineering and/or tech program management are encouraged to join the 75th Innovation Command AI team.
The 75th Innovation Command drives operational innovation, concepts, and capabilities to enhance the readiness and lethality of the Future Force by leveraging the unique skills, agility and private sector connectivity of America's Army Reserve. For more information, please visit https://innovation.army.mil.