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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Air Force officials launch language program for Airmen

by 1st Lt. Gina Vaccaro McKeen
Air Force Personnel Center Public Affairs

4/8/2010 - RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) -- Officials at the Air Force Culture and Language Center here recently launched a program designed to identify Airmen with foreign language abilities and foster those skills throughout their careers.

The Language Enabled Airman Program is the first career-long program designed to offer language-sustainment training for Airmen in diverse career fields.

"We need Airmen across all our Air Force specialties with foreign language skills and cultural understanding so we will be able to interact with our coalition partners across the globe," said Lt. Col. Brian Smith, the deputy director of the AFCLC language department at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. "The unique aspect of this program is that Airmen will devote time to maintaining and enhancing their language abilities while pursuing their normal operational assignments."

The idea behind LEAP is to find Airmen who speak a foreign language and ensure they maintain their abilities through individual customized sustainment plans.

The selection process
Airmen will be selected based upon their demonstrated potential to achieve higher levels of foreign language proficiency as measured by their past performance in language courses, their Defense Language Proficiency Test and Defense Language Aptitude Battery scores, and their previous foreign language exposure.

The minimum score required on the DLAB, which measures an individual's propensity for learning a language, is 85. The DLPT measures one's reading, writing and speaking capability in a specific language.

While program officials prefer Airmen who speak a foreign language, they will allow exceptions. If an Airman has an exceptional DLAB score but has no specific language training, he or she may be accepted on a provisional basis. Provisional Airmen have time restrictions to meet the minimum eligibility requirements.

Applicants are considered by a board that includes representatives from the Air Force ROTC, U.S. Air Force Academy, Air Force Personnel Center, Air Force Language and Culture Program office, and AFCLC. A board will be held each spring and summer.

The date for the next board has not been set; however, a message will go out to total force Airmen at least 60 days before the board is scheduled to meet. Additionally, information on the program and application process is available at the AFCLC Web site, Interested Airmen may submit completed applications at any time.

All languages qualify; however, board members prioritize selections based on Air Force requirements.

Participating in LEAP
"Language is a perishable skill," Colonel Smith said. "We want to provide resources for Airmen who are interested in advanced foreign language development so they can maintain and enhance those skills throughout their careers."

The focus of this program is to find Airmen who are both willing and able to continue their language training, he said.

"When Air Force officials recognize skills you already have then encourage you and reward you for using them, it motivates you to continue," Colonel Smith said. "We want to develop a core group of Airmen across all Air Force specialties who can effectively communicate in at least one language other than English."

Participants in the program will be required to complete up to three hours per week of online language training and are expected to reach and maintain a proficiency level of 2/2 or better on the DLPT. The maximum score is 5/5.

LEAP participants will take part in a language intensive training event of some kind within their first year of the program, then every year or two thereafter depending on the language difficulty and the ability to schedule around other career requirements.

Potential opportunities include classroom training, study abroad and simulated immersion programs. The events could be offered anywhere in the world and require participants to communicate solely in the language of study.

"Language skills are critical in today's global environment," Colonel Smith said. "With LEAP, we are looking to utilize our Airmen's natural abilities and marry those natural gifts with Air Force requirements. LEAP invests in our people throughout their entire careers and potentially affects their professional development in a very positive way by increasing their effectiveness as expeditionary Airmen."

LEAP officials seek to locate qualified Airmen early in their careers because of the length of time required to become proficient in a foreign language, Colonel Smith said. Ideally, program officials would like Airmen with at least 10 years of active service remaining to ensure program participants can receive effective training in conjunction with their career progression.

The program is limited to officers, ROTC and academy cadets for now; however, the ultimate goal is to have 5 to 10 percent of the force active in the program at any time. Officials at the AFCLC emphasize that it will take a few years to get to this point and have said they are encouraged by the positive response across the total force.

Using LEAP Airmen
Personnel at the AFCLC have created a web-enabled tracking system for LEAP participants that contains in-depth information about an Airman's cultural and language skills, including education, training and experience.

With this new tracking system, officials can identify individuals with language skills in advance and forecast which positions, locations and languages will be needed or available in the future. This database provides Air Force leaders greater knowledge of the language resources they have available at any given time.

LEAP will allow officials to plan several years in advance for positions with language requirements and adjust incentive and recruiting programs accordingly, Colonel Smith said.

"Now we can determine, for example, the specific number of Airmen the Air Force expects to get in a certain Air Force specialty in a given year, which of those Airmen have language skills, and which jobs related to those language skills might be available throughout an Airman's career," he said. "The tracking system will allow us to predict where gaps in our capabilities will surface so we can focus recruiting, scholarships and opportunities to shape the force for future Air Force demands.

"We have always had Airmen with remarkable talents and skills," Colonel Smith said. "Language and cultural understanding are valuable resources that can benefit the Air Force mission every day."

To find out more about LEAP or to download an application, visit the AFCLC Web site.

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