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A warm welcome: LEAP participant meets Chinese PLAAF leaders

Midday and middle of the week, a wave of blue and navy uniforms washed over the inner circle of Air War College.

Midday and middle of the week, a wave of blue and navy uniforms washed over the inner circle of Air War College.

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --

Midday and middle of the week, a wave of blue and navy uniforms washed over the inner circle of Air War College. Decorated in lapels, badges, and insignia, from a far, the group looked like one synchronous unit. But up close, it was an obvious blend of foreign and U.S. military members: the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force leaders and United States Air Force service members.

Normally 7,667 miles apart, they came together at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama to discuss Air University and its’ mission. The only problem: The PLAAF members spoke Mandarin Chinese and the Airmen spoke English.

That’s where Air Force Captain Howard Pan stepped in.

“It was a really great opportunity,” he said, “this was my first time engaging with a foreign military delegation and it was a really good experience. I was able to interact with leaders from both sides”.

Capt Pan is a member of the Air Force Culture and Language Center’s Language Enabled Airman Program and speaks both Mandarin Chinese and English. Born in Xiamen, Fujian Province, China, Capt Pan moved to the U.S. when he was 10 years old. Like most LEAP participants, he had some existing language capabilities, but, wanted to improve them through the program.

Using the two-part education system of the career-spanning program, Capt Pan developed his language and regional skills by taking eMentor language courses online and traveling to Bejing, China, for a Language Intensive Training Event at the renowned Peking University. He was able to build on his skillset by working with the Chinese PLAAF members. The one-day trip included more than a dozen senior PLAAF personnel, featured tours, briefings, and the many opportunities to learn, both for the guests and the hosts.

“The delegation had their own personal interpreter with them, so she did the official translation during the briefs. But, I was able to talk with them extensively during lunch and while transitioning between events,” he said, “they expressed genuine interest in learning more about the ways of life for our Airmen. It was nice to connect on that level”.

Through LEAP, the Air Force is developing cross-culturally competent leaders across all Air Force specialties with working-level foreign language proficiency. By trade, Capt Pan is the Deputy Chief of the Weapons and Tactics Shop at Robins Air Force Base. But, during the China PLAAF visit, he assisted an interpreter and was able to use his military experience and speaking skills to build relationships.

“I am very grateful for this program and this opportunity, “he said, “this was my first LITE of this kind and I look forward to going on more immersions”.