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Hopper: Innovation, Transformation, Inspiration

By Rear Adm. Brian Fort
Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific

During last month’s historic first visit of the voyaging canoe Hokule‘a to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH), Master Navigator Nainoa Thompson spoke about his father, Myron “Pinky” Thompson, who was 15 years old at the time of the attack on Oahu Dec. 7, 1941. As soon as he was able, Pinky Thompson, like a lot of other young men at the time, falsified his age and joined the military to serve his country.

Women in the 1940s did not have as many opportunities to serve in uniform but the war opened occupations and doors, including for a smart mathematician named Grace Murray Hopper. Hopper wanted to join the military but, like Pinky Thompson, she had an obstacle because of her age. In her case, in her mid-30s, she was deemed too old to enlist.

Feisty and gritty Hopper didn’t give up though.

Just as she would do throughout her life, Hopper rose to the challenge and found solutions. When her chance came in 1943, she signed up with the U.S. Navy Reserve – that was 75 years ago. She went to work as a wartime problem solver – one of our first pioneers in modern computer programming.

Capt. Grace Hopper, then head of the Navy Programming Language Section of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, discusses a phase of her work with a staff member in August 1976. (U.S. Navy photo by PH2 David C. MacLean/Released)
Capt. Grace Hopper, then head of the Navy Programming Language Section of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, discusses a phase of her work with a staff member in August 1976. (U.S. Navy photo by PH2 David C. MacLean/Released)

 

She and her team took a systematic approach to coding: finding effective, accurate and universal ways for humans to communicate with machines and vice versa.

Think about that the next time you talk to your smartphone, tablet or voice-controlled home speaker.

Earlier in her career, Hopper served as an educator at Vassar, training and transforming minds. Within the Navy she became a programmer with Harvard and Yale, where she transformed the technology of the future. She served throughout her life – in and out of uniform – to transform the concept of a woman’s role in society, one based on equality of opportunity.

Hopper mentored and inspired young women and men to look for innovative ways to serve. She had no time for complacency, stale thinking or laziness. And she and her teams always carefully assessed their performance to look for opportunities to improve processes and technology.

Most recently “Amazing Grace’s” namesake, USS Hopper (DDG 70) – one of our ten homeported ships at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam – returned to Hawaii after a successful deployment to the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf. Hopper was deployed 12 of the past 18 months.

Team Hopper proved their ability to keep the peace through their forward presence, but always ready to conduct prompt and sustained combat at sea if necessary. Hopper is among our ships adapting to the emerging security environment in the Indo-Pacific and ready to operate in a growingly complex, transforming world.

On their deployment, Sailors aboard Hopper proved their skills and abilities working with the America Amphibious Ready Group, United States Marines, and the Australian navy. They visited Bahrain, Singapore and Guam, and they built cooperative partnerships.

Hopper’s Sailors, of course, relied on state-of-the-art computers. While, today’s complex shipboard computer systems would no doubt amaze USS Hopper’s “Amazing” namesake, I suspect she would take it all in stride.

As a further testament to Rear Adm. Grace Hopper’s legacy, the U.S. Naval Academy is building Hopper Hall, to be named for the computer scientist pioneer. Hopper Hall, located between Nimitz Library and Rickover Hall, will be a modern $107-million academic facility dedicated to cyber security studies.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Oct. 21, 2016) The official party of the Hopper Hall ground breaking ceremony at the United States Naval Academy (USNA) dig out a scoop of dirt. Hopper Hall, which will house USNA's Center for Cyber Studies, is the namesake of Rear Adm. Grace Hopper who is often referred to as 'The Mother of Computing'. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brianna Jones/Released)
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Oct. 21, 2016) The official party of the Hopper Hall ground breaking ceremony at the United States Naval Academy (USNA) dig out a scoop of dirt. Hopper Hall, which will house USNA’s Center for Cyber Studies, is the namesake of Rear Adm. Grace Hopper who is often referred to as ‘The Mother of Computing’. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brianna Jones/Released)

 

The facility is expected to be completed by early 2020, appropriately at the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution giving women the right to vote. According to the Naval Academy this will be the first building at any of the three major service academies to be named after a woman.

By the way, the Naval Academy is also teaching courses along both ends of the exploration spectrum: from futuristic and innovative cyber security – including a major in cyber operations – to ancient celestial navigation as practiced by the Polynesian Voyaging Society aboard Hokule‘a.

Putting it all together, USS Hopper returned from her recent deployment just in time to be part of the aloha whistle welcome for the arrival of Hokule‘a Feb. 10. As the voyaging canoe entered Pearl Harbor, she also sailed past memorials including USS Arizona, USS Nevada, USS Utah and the Battleship Missouri – symbols of how our Navy helped transform our world, bringing freedom and democracy to Japan and other nations who are now allies, a transformation Grace Hopper was part of. That transformation gave greater rights and equality to women in the decades that followed, especially in our Navy.

During Hokule‘a’s week at JBPHH in February, women and men of the Polynesian Voyaging Society provided hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics education for 2,000 students and other visitors.

Just like Rear Adm. Grace Hopper – innovative, transformational and inspirational.

PEARL HARBOR (Feb. 10, 2018) The traditional Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe, Hokule‘a, renders honors as it passes by the USS Arizona Memorial during its first-ever visit to the waters of Pearl Harbor. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeff Troutman/Released)
PEARL HARBOR (Feb. 10, 2018) The traditional Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe, Hokule‘a, renders honors as it passes by the USS Arizona Memorial during its first-ever visit to the waters of Pearl Harbor. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeff Troutman/Released)

 

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