Generally speaking, Language Intensive Training Event (LITE) 17E-OA in Paris was a tremendous success. I am convinced we achieved the primary objective of improving real-world language proficiency and francophone cultural competence. On a more personal note, this was an exceptionally synergistic use of USAF monies: it allowed me to accomplish primary research for current dissertation work at Georgetown University, where the Air Force is paying for my doctoral work, with an expected completion date of summer 2019.
Regarding travel, this generally went well in my experience. My arrival and departure airport in Paris was Orly, not Charles de Gaulle. While this is somewhat unusual (nearly all US flights to Paris fly into CDG), it went quite well. Orly is somewhat smaller and easier to navigate. However, for those not as familiar with Paris, it would be important to highlight this fact prior to leaving. That aside, taxis to and from the airport run on a “flat-fee”, so one need not worry about “price-gouging”, and it’s very efficient. While in Paris, the monthly (or weekly) metro pass are the best value for the USAF’s money, and also very efficient and convenient.
The French classes at Accord école de langues were top notch. I am not being hyperbolic when I say they were some of the finest French courses I’ve taken (including my time at DLI, online courses, etc.). Muriel, our professor there, was not only an expert in the language, but also familiar with the French military, making her uniquely qualified to instruct US military officers in French language and in French military culture and vocabulary. This was exceptionally useful, as much of our instruction was focused on the upcoming Paris Airshow. I strongly recommend at least a full-week of classes for any future LEAP officers (we had three days upon arrival, and one day at the end, primarily to give our presentations). Again, purely in terms of language learning, this was by far the most valuable experience in-country.
Finally, regarding my work with the Embassy, the preparatory week was relatively light in French language usage, as it was primarily coordinating between multiple US agencies and offices and, to some extent, with host-nation offices. However, despite this drawback, this was still an exceptionally informative and useful experience. It gave me a first-hand look into State Department practices, the relationship between DoD and DoS organizations, and to a lesser extent, how the US government communicates with and coordinates with the French government. It improved my cultural communication between agencies and governments and was professionally enriching.
The week of the airshow was a truly rich experience – it was an eclectic and amazing mix of interpreting, witnessing high-level meetings, remarkable airpower demonstrations, and first-hand coordination between French and US offices. I was paired with SAF/IA’s Ms. Heidi Grant and her team, as well a French escort officer. I was able to practice much of the vocabulary I learned (and some I had forgot!) with the French escort officer throughout the week. This culminated in coordinating a meeting between Ms. Grant and the French Air Force Chief of Staff, General Lanata. If LEAP agrees to support this event in 2019 (it’s biannual), they should insist their officers act as escort officers, as I did, for one of the US delegations. This provided tremendous opportunities to practice the language, cross-cultural competencies, and grow professionally.
In sum, LITE 17E-OA was a tremendous success for this LEAP officer. To make it even more successful in the future I recommend: 1) doubling the number of language class days if possible and, 2) insist on LEAP officers acting as escort officers for official US delegations to the Paris Airshow (i.e. Ms. Heidi Grant and others). Thank you again to the LEAP team for such a rich and rewarding experience, especially with such rapid planning in a fluid situation. The LEAP team back home was exceptionally helpful, responsive, and supportive.
Image caption: Maj Rounds far left, next to French Escort officer Jacques Levy. Ms. Grant center, surrounded by her staff. (Photo courtesy: Le Bourget)