Seth Maggard, AFCLC | 22 April 2016
Maxwell AFB, Ala. — On April 21st, a windowless room exploded with the enthusiastic conversation of Airmen who traveled here from around the world to meet with one goal in mind: improving their valued Language Enabled Airmen Program (LEAP). The program is designed to sustain, enhance, and posture for utilization the existing language skills of its participants, seven of whom sought to give back to the program through this LEAP Focus Group.
“This is a great opportunity to gain input from members with recent cultural experiences and real-world application of our skills,” said SSgt Adrian Gaxiola, a Spanish LEAP participant since 2014 “LEAP is some of the best training available, and the entire Air Force needs to know that it’s out here. Completely free.”
The participants met at the Air Force Culture and Language Center and became oriented with each other by sharing their experiences. Officers, senior NCOs, and a special agent enjoyed the opportunity to converge on a topic that many have enjoyed for years- foreign language and LEAP. Having already completed their synchronous online language courses, called the eMentor program, and their Language Intensive Training Events (LITEs) in the country of their selected LEAP language, these Airmen were the perfect candidates for providing the LEAP office input regarding their LEAP training experiences.
“I got the opportunity to attend a LITE to Haiti in 2015,” said SMSgt Cherise Poisson, a Hatian-Creole- LEAP participant since 2014. “The language enrichment that I received there made me feel more confident and enabled in my skills better than ever before.”
The AFCLC is designed to provide culture and language enhancement to General Purpose Forces, and provides participants with multiple modalities of not only language, but understanding.
“The biggest hurdle in a [foreign] country is being able to not just speak the language, but to fully communicate your message to actual people” said Maj Shai Tziony, who hones his Hebrew skills with LEAP.
“Language skills are an investment,” said 1stLt Daniel Bergstresser, a Japanese LEAP participant since 2011 “one that requires ongoing training and utilization in order to reach practical levels. LEAP provides that training, but the challenge is creating value to everyone outside of the program, so that they can see the return on that investment and work toward providing information and Airmen for the program.”
The investment comes in the form of taking eMentor courses, attending language immersions in countries around the globe, and creating language projects that showcase knowledge gained on specific cultural topics. The primary goal for this Focus Group was to come up with ways to improve LEAP as a training program as well as brainstorm ways to better inform commanders and leaders on the value of this training and how it can benefit the global Air Force mission.
“I think that the predominant assumption is that this training is simply another form of Professional Military Education (PME), when it is actually an opportunity to develop language and culture skills to the point of providing young Airmen that are proficient in actually functioning in any given culture,” said MSgt Andres Anello, a Spanish LEAP participant since 2013. “We are out there impacting a larger Air Force mission with our capabilities in real-world events, and it is because of the quality of training from the AFCLC.”
This event shows a great deal of involvement and consideration from the Air Force Culture and Language Center [AFCLC] staff to gather its members in person to ensure a quality future and support for partnerships around the globe. LEAP is for literally any Airman, the benefits to the Air Force are far too substantial to ignore” said Special Agent Rhoshonda McGruder, a French LEAP participant since 2013.
The LEAP office plans to continually hold such feedback sessions through a variety of methods in order to provide highly-qualified Language Enabled Airmen to the USAF and the greater DoD.