By Howard Ward, AFCLC Director

In Tom Clancy’s biography of former USCENTCOM Commander General Anthony Zinni called Battle Ready, Clancy recounted the relationship between Gen Zinni and then Gen Pervez Musharraf. According to Clancy, Gens Zinni and Musharraf had worked together on some projects and developed a close relationship based on mutual trust and respect.

This paid dividends when Gen Musharraf ousted the sitting President of Pakistan. With Pakistan being a nuclear nation and involved in a number of volatile issues, the political current in Pakistan has important implications for US security. Fortunately, the first phone call President Musharraf made after the ouster was to his friend, Gen Zinni, who was then the USCENTCOM Commander. The call was not to some foreign head of state… it was to a friend.

This vignette highlights something significant regarding security cooperation and the role culture and language plays in it. The learning point is that it’s too late to build a relationship when you need one. Nations and businesses that invest in building relationships, even when there may not be a readily apparent need, insulate themselves from certain risks in times of challenge and they are also able to capitalize on emerging opportunities.

At the Air Force Culture and Language Center (AFCLC), we execute a number of activities every day in our “global classroom” that contribute to security cooperation. Through the Language Enabled Airman Program or LEAP, we have built a bench of over 2,400 Airmen covering 95 languages that have undertaken a course of deliberate development that enables and empowers them to grow relationships and enhance interoperability with air forces around the world. The capability developed through LEAP provides a significant tactical benefit today and in time the relationships built with members of partner air forces could be the seeds of decisions that alter the curve of history.

The AFCLC also provides cutting edge education across the service that enables airmen to understand, appreciate, and work with cultures around the world. Our scholars work with the International Officer School where they teach officers from around the world about American culture while they study alongside their American counterparts. They also teach some of the brightest minds in the DoD about culture and how to cultivate relationships of trust that can prevent conflict and also enable seamless operations when we work together. AFCLC’s online content through the Community College of the Air Force educates over 13,000 airmen annually to help them become future senior enlisted leaders who can partner with commanders to build enduring relationships.

To succeed in security cooperation, one must adopt a farmer’s mentality in that you have to expect to plant the trees before you pick the fruit. This only continues to hold true in the language and culture education community.


In a NY Times interview in Jan 2013, Gen Stanley McChrystal said one thing he would have done differently following 9-11 would be “On Sep 12 2001, we should have sent 10,000 people to language school.”

Imagine how many lives may have been saved had even a fraction of that capability already existed; imagine how things may have been different had a relationship between Gens Zinni and Musharraf not already existed in a crucial moment.

AFCLC is busy planting the trees 24/7 that will bear fruit in the near and long term. Through culture and language education and training, the AFCLC enhances security cooperation to mitigate risk and create opportunities at the strategic level.

Culture and language…essential and operational.


NY Times interview with Gen McChrystal (ret):