SecAF emphasizes importance of Language and Culture Skills at AFCLC, AU’s Symposium

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  • By Air Force Culture and Language Center Outreach Team

Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett addressed attendees virtually for the Air Force Culture and Language Center and Air University’s fifth annual Language, Regional Expertise, and Culture (AU LREC) Symposium. During her pre-recorded remarks, Barrett thanked Air and Space Professionals for continuing to hone their skills to better the Total Force.

“On the ground or in the air, you represent a unique team of culturally savvy professionals ready to protect America and our way of life,” Barrett said.

This year, AFCLC and AU hosted the annual symposium virtually due to the ongoing pandemic and Department of Defense travel restrictions. In the virtual setting, the event drew more than 2,000 Airmen, academics, and civilians worldwide. The symposium’s theme, Hindsight 2020, encouraged speakers and presenters to look at the past and examine the last 10 years of global operations and how the past shapes the future. In her speech, Barrett went into detail about the military’s history regarding language and culture training.

“Language education has been embedded in the U.S. for centuries,” Barrett stated. “In line with this year’s theme, it’s important to look at these historic ties as force multipliers and coalition builders, and I’m excited to see how you continue to improve language, regional expertise, and culture competencies.”

For example, Barrett referenced that during World War I, the War Department added English language classes to wartime training camps because more than 18% of the U.S. Army was foreign-born. In World War II, the War Department developed and distributed foreign language phrasebooks for 25 languages. Today, AFCLC’s 57 Expeditionary Culture Field Guides span the globe to honor our history and forge ahead as coalition builders.

AFCLC was founded at Air University, embracing the Air Force chief of staff’s intention to improve Airmen’s cross-cultural competence and working-level foreign language proficiency. In October 2009, the Air Force Senior Language Authority directed AFCLC to initiate the Language Enabled Airman Program (LEAP), a career-spanning program to develop, enhance, and sustain language capabilities in a cadre of Airmen across most general purpose force specialties. There are currently more than 3,000 LEAP scholars.

“Although culture and language skills proved critical to counterinsurgency efforts following the attacks of 9/11, ‘just-in-time training’ proved insufficient in developing the depth and breadth Airmen and allies needed to operate effectively. The establishment of the Air Force Culture and Language Center represented a strategic pivot toward expanding our cultural understanding of our allies and partners,” Barrett said. “A success story, LEAP was founded with the aim of deliberately developing, sustaining, and improving language and cultural competencies as we build the Air and Space forces we need. Across the force, our Airmen speak 116 languages … from Indonesia to Nigeria to Bolivia to Qatar, we have Air and Space Professionals using language skills to reinforce bonds and make America better.”

Acknowledging just a few of AFCLC’s LEAP scholars, Barrett mentioned by name: Maj. Evgenia Peduzzi, who
interpreted real-time Air space negotiations with Russia, Capt. Julian Gluck, who used his Japanese skills during exercise Cope North, and Master Sgt. Alain Mukendi, who recently interpreted an Enlisted Professional Military Education refresher course to Senegalese Air Force members. This EPME course teamed up LEAP scholars, Mukendi and Capt. Bakary Jallow to provide language support. Mukendi interpreted the course in French, and Jallow interpreted the course in Wolof, providing language support in whichever language Senegalese Air Force members were most comfortable using. Providing support in two languages demonstrated the Air Force’s commitment to building partnerships with our African partners

“Moving forward, I’m excited to see how we continue improving language, regional expertise, and cultural competencies to strengthen U.S. and foreign military partnerships,” Barrett said. “We are building our strategic bench of Air and Space Professionals who fulfill the National Defense Strategy. As we grow the Air and Space forces, we may become bigger. Still, we need to be better focused on capabilities, not just capacity … AFCLC continues to pave the way to develop fluent leaders prepared for America’s role in great power competition.”

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