KADENA AIR BASE, Japan --
Airmen from around the 18th Wing met to strengthen their language skills during a Language Enabled Airman Program professional development session, which consisted of presentations by the Air Force Culture and Language Center and a current LEAP scholar Jan. 26, 2023, at Kadena Air Base, Japan.
Through professional developments, the LEAP Okinawa Chapter gives Airmen the opportunity to enhance and utilize their skills towards strengthening partnerships, interoperability and adversary understanding.
“As an organization, we are the most accessible resource that, not just the DoD, but also partner nations have access to, when it comes to missions going on not just locally, but globally,” said Senior Master Sgt. Martha Meza, LEAP scholar, during her presentation.
Though LEAP is an Air Force program, sister branches and partner nations are able to request a LEAP scholar to assist with missions and bridge the language barrier. Having someone who not only understands the language and culture, but is also able to convey military jargon increases interoperability and success of missions globally.
“These are people that will win hearts and minds,” said Master Sgt. Justin Barao, LEAP scholar. “Not only are we embedded in the military culture, we’re embedded in our heritage. Being able to combine those two lets us build a connection with partner forces that wouldn’t be there using contracted translators.”
LEAP scholars continually prepare to support these missions through the general meetings of the chapter.
“We try to diversify what we talk about,” said Master Sgt. Ricardo Cepeda Pastrana, LEAP Okinawa Chapter president. “In our professional developments we talk about politics or current events and similar topics. It shows that you’re not just doing normal conversation with family, but you are actually increasing your overall proficiency in more complex subjects.”
The chapter also interacts with the local community as a way to increase language proficiency and immerses Airmen in real situations and conversations. These events provide a potential learning opportunity different to the events AFCLC conducts.
“Having a local chapter lets people reach out to us directly,” said Cepeda. “For example, we are receiving requests for Japanese speakers to volunteer during America Fest. One LEAP scholar just returned from assisting the U.S. Army in Ukraine on a request.”
Participation in LEAP development courses is not exclusive to current members. Those who are interested in enhancing their language skills and applying for LEAP are encouraged to attend the meetings.
“The chapter fosters an environment of recruitment,” said Meza. “We have people from many different backgrounds, different languages. Some scholars have board experience and can give advice and feedback on packages.”
During the last application cycle, 14 applicants were selected to become LEAP scholars, said Cepeda. Kadena had the most applicants selected compared to any base across the Air Force.
“If we have a force that speaks different languages, we are maximizing our effectiveness,” said Meza. “The language dynamic helps us build a better perspective of what’s going on around us.”