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Ramstein Airmen LEAP into learning new languages

A graphic displaying information about the Language Enabled Airman Program.

The graphic displays information on the Language Enabled Airman Program. LEAP is a program designed to develop an Airman's proficiency in a foreign language. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Airman 1st Class Taylor D. Slater)

An Airman poses for a photo.

U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Sung Min Son, 86th Medical Group flight medicine technician, poses for a photo at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Oct. 13, 2020. Son is part of the Language Enabled Airman Program which teaches Airmen other languages and develops cross-cultural competencies. LEAP Airmen support various missions and strengthen partnerships with other nations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Taylor D. Slater)

An Airman searches for supplies.

U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Sung Min Son, 86th Medical Group 86th Medical Group flight medicine technician, searches for medical supplies inside an ambulance at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Oct. 13, 2020. Son is a part of The Language Enabled Airman Program, which has been instrumental in the development of many Airmen and the development of the relationships with partner nations across the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Taylor D. Slater)

An Airman performs an eye examination.

U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Sung Min Son, 86th Medical Group flight medicine technician, performs an eye examination at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Oct. 13, 2020. Son is part of The Language Enabled Airman Program, which teaches many different languages, varying from Spanish to Arabic. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Taylor D. Slater)

An Airman checks documents on a computer.

U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Sung Min Son, 86th Medical Group flight medicine technician, checks documents at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Oct. 13, 2020. Son is a part of the Language Enabled Airman Program, which is recommended for anyone who wants to learn a new language, even if they themselves are not proficient in anything other than their native language.(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Taylor D. Slater)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Learning new languages can broaden one’s horizons, but for some languages even mastering the alphabet is a challenge.

The Language Enabled Airman Program is here to help Active Duty Air Force Officers and Enlisted personnel through that.

LEAP, a program managed by the Air Force Culture and Language Center, teaches Airmen new languages and assigns them missions in support of the Air Force. The program is instrumental to the development of many Airmen and builds relationships with partner nations across the world.

86th Airlift Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Hope Skibitsky is a long-time champion of the LEAP program.

”Our 2018 national defense strategy talks about how strategically we are supposed to get out and deter in this incredibly complex and ever-changing world we live in,” said Skibitsky. “We do that by cultivating skills that Airmen already have in regards to both language and culture.”

Tech. Sgt. Sung Min Son, 86th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron flight medicine technician, has been involved with the LEAP program since 2014, and his life has not been the same since.

”Without having these LEAP experiences, I would not have been able to make it this far (in my career),” Son said. “I really appreciate their support.”

For example, in 2019 Son was assigned a temporary duty assignment to South Korea where he acted as an interpreter between Korean and U.S. Marines. Son was able to observe how the Marines performed their work while strengthening the bonds between South Korean and U.S. Forces.

”It was such an honorable moment to be a part of their mission,” Son said. “I hope other LEAP applicants can be part of that mission as well.”

First Lt. Brian Clark, 603rd Operations Center non-kinetic duty officer, agrees.

Clark learned Russian in the LEAP program and was able to participate in a study abroad program in Latvia where he appreciated how different the Latvian and Russian cultures are.

“As a NATO country, it’s good to learn about their culture and be able to work with them,” Clark said.

Clark recognizes the importance of his duties, as it is his responsibility to help further partnerships with other nations and honor their culture.

“When you’re learning about a culture and then you go to where it’s actually practiced it can seem less foreign to you,” Clark said. “It helps you adjust to a new country and you’re able to appreciate their culture more.”

LEAP participants develop an ability called cross-cultural competency, Clark adds. Cross-cultural competency measures one’s ability to work with members of a foreign country while learning their language and culture. Honing this skill is invaluable for Ramstein Airmen who frequently find themselves working with allies and partners across Europe and Africa.

Many languages are available in the program, from Spanish to Russian, Arabic or even German. Knowing multiple languages prior is not a requirement for admittance into the program but applicants must demonstrate language proficiency for acceptance.

After acceptance to the program, the member chooses a language to learn from the Air Force Strategic Language List and they proceed through the program in two sections. The first section is a set of virtual classes where an instructor teaches the language. The next section consists of temporary duty assignments where the student visits a country where the language is widely practiced and studies for three to four weeks.

“What we’re trying to do through LEAP is find things that people are already good at in regards to language, reading, writing, and interpreting, and then maximize that by putting them out in mission sets that they may not otherwise have had the opportunity to be a part of,” Skibitsky said. “It’s about talent management.”

LEAP is recommended for anyone who wants to learn a new language, no matter the rank, air force specialty code or skill level, Skibitsky said.

Son agrees.

“You’re probably going to see something you’ve never seen before, and you’re going to be amazed how we operate missions between other nations,” Son said. “It’s an awesome opportunity.”

For more information about the program or application instructions, visit https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/AFCLC/Language-Studies/ or email the AFCLC at afclc.language@us.af.mil.