Language Enabled Airman Program participants assist at Pacific Rim Airpower Conference

by Jodi L. Jordan
Air Force Culture and Language Center

10/3/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -  -- An Air Force program integrator, an acquisitions officer, and a weapon systems officer recently attended the Pacific Rim Airpower Symposium in Thailand, but it wasn't to do integration, acquisitions or weapons. Majors Veasna Pel and Paul Sebold and Capt. Jay Park are all members of the Language Enabled Airman Program, and they were specially selected to participate in the symposium because of their language skills - Cambodian/Khmer, Russian, and Korean, respectively.

PACRIM is an annual meeting of senior air operations officers and senior enlisted leaders from the air forces of the Indo-Pacific region. This year's symposium was held in Bangkok, and was attended by representatives from 22 countries. LEAP is a U.S. Air Force program that sustains, enhances and utilizes the existing language skills of Airmen from across the Air Force. Although almost all the PACRIM delegates spoke English as well as their native languages, pairing the LEAP participants with delegates provided greater understanding, the delegates said. The arrangement benefitted the LEAP participants, as well, by giving them experience using their language skills in an Air Force environment.

In fact, Pel, Sebold and Park's participation at PACRIM was a prime example of how LEAP provides the Air Force with linguistically and culturally competent Airmen, said program organizers. "We have a great relationship with our partners in PACAF," said, Capt. Breezy Long, LEAP Operations Branch chief. "We were looking for real-world opportunities for some of the more advanced LEAP participants, and we asked our contacts at PACAF if there were any upcoming requirements that would be a good fit." The PACRIM Airpower Symposium was a natural choice, said Maj. Darin Gregg, one of the Symposium organizers.

"Having a LEAP Airman that is both fluent in the language and experienced in their trade allows us to cover detailed items that are not easily translated," Gregg said. "Standard language programs do not typically cover complex maintenance, operations and logistics ideas, so a LEAP Airman in these specialties is in a better position than a standard translator to explain these concepts."

While at the Symposium, the LEAP participants assisted the delegates from Cambodia, Mongolia, and Korea. The assistance was greatly appreciated and increased understanding, said Maj. Gen. Som Yom, deputy chief of staff of the Cambodian Air Force, who worked with Pel during the event. "At some points, we need to have it expressed in our own language because we couldn't get the deeper meaning of the presentations or discussions," Som Yom said. "He increased the level of understanding for me. With 21 nations here, there are many speaking dialects. I can understand the English words, but because of the different dialects and the speed of speech, I cannot get 100 percent, so I would ask for his help."

Chief Master Sergeant of the Korean Air Force Lee Jung Yeol worked with Park, and he echoed the value of the LEAP participants' attendance. "If Capt. Park was not here, I would still been able to get the general idea of the briefings but not the detailed understanding that is necessary. Our discussions during have helped me conceptualize it down to the more detailed level," Jung Yeol said. "And it was also nice to have a fellow Korean here." Jung Yeol also illustrated the relationship building that came from having a LEAP participant to help, saying, "I would like to especially thank the U.S. military for providing a linguist so my experience could be expanded. I will always be grateful for this opportunity."

The LEAP participants were also grateful to have the opportunity to use their language abilities outside of a training environment. "As part of the LEAP program, I understand the culture and the language and that is invaluable to developing relationships in the region," Pel said. "I am glad I am part of the program and I got to help out as much as possible out here in an actual operational environment."

More than 1,000 Airmen currently participate in LEAP. The program is highly selective, seeking Airmen who are not just able, but who are also willing, to use their existing language abilities for the Air Force.
"The program seeks to develop cross-culturally competent leaders with working-level foreign language proficiency - leaders who can meet Air Force global mission requirements," said Mr. Zachary Hickman, the AFCLC's Language Division chief. "We select Airmen from jobs across the Air Force. They stay in their 'day jobs,' but they gain a level of language and culture learning that allows them to do their 'day jobs,' in another language and in another country."

Two LEAP selection boards are typically held each year, with one focused on officers and one for enlisted candidates. The next selection board will be for enlisted candidates and will be in spring of 2014. The next selection board for officers will be in fall 2014. Exact dates will be announced on the AFCLC's website at and on the Air Force Portal. Interested candidates are encouraged to schedule Defense Language Proficiency Tests or Oral Proficiency Interviews with their local base education offices in preparation for the application period. LEAP is operated by the Air Force Culture and Language Center, part of the Spaatz Center for Officer Education at Air University.