Story by Jodi L. Jordan | AFCLC
With time spent in more than 13 African countries, Capt. Megan Gallagher is not your typical U.S. Air Force officer.
As part of the 818th Mobility Support Advisory Squadron, Gallagher spends about half her time traveling from her home station at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst to various locations across Africa, helping partner nations in almost every capacity associated with building strong aviation enterprises. “We usually lead engagements of about one to four weeks with a partner nation,” Gallagher said. “We deliver training and facilitate a dialog and exchange of information on best practices. Depending on the needs of the partner nation, we could be focusing on humanitarian missions, maintenance practices, intelligence – really any areas of interest that further the capabilities and capacities of their aviation enterprise.”
When she’s back home, in addition to her duties as the squadron’s executive officer, Gallagher logs about 2 hours a day in online classes, honing her French language skills through the Language Enabled Airman Program’s eMentor courses.
Gallagher is a Foreign Area Officer, but she’s also a participant in LEAP. LEAP is a career-spanning program to sustain, enhance and use the existing language skills of Airmen. The eMentor program is a key component in the sustainment and enhancement goal of LEAP, and Gallagher makes full use of the courses to develop and keep her language abilities on point for whatever tough conversations she may face on her many assignments abroad.
The coursework Gallagher completes at home isn’t a generic, “off-the-shelf” computer training course, though. The depth and breadth of what Gallagher does requires a different approach, and that’s where eMentor excels. The eMentor training is conducted live, with professional language instructors, who are usually native speakers. Small groups of LEAP participants join in the online course, and then they are expected to engage in listening, writing, reading and speaking in real time, on a variety of topics.
“The structure of the class pushes your language ability,” Gallagher said. “You will have a topic of interest for the day – it could be anything, superheroes, or social media, something random – and you are expected to form opinions and defend those opinions in the target language. It exposes you to new vocabulary, engages you and gives you instant feedback on everything from your pronunciation to your ability to debate. And you’re getting that feedback from a real expert.”
When Gallagher is “in country,” the type of learning that eMentor provides is essential to her mission. Learning from native speakers develops the nuances and colloquialisms that textbooks won’t often cover. “It gives me extra credence,” she said. “I can speak with our partners on a different level, and they appreciate that. I know what I’m talking about, and I can express it in a way that makes sense.”
The captain says it comes down to the ability to “think” in another language – not just to speak in another language. “So many things don’t make sense if they are just directly translated.” That ability must be continually sustained over time, because it goes away quickly if not used in conversations with native speakers, she said. Through LEAP and eMentor, more and more Airmen have the opportunity to not just gain a language, but to sustain that valuable asset.
“The Air Force is striving to become more “joint,” she said. “But to have Airmen who are truly capable on an international level, who can facilitate our interests around the world, requires language skills. It’s something we must develop and encourage across the Service.”