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Air University's LREC Symposium focuses on the Air Force and cultural agility

AU holds 3rd LREC Symposium (U.S. Air Force photo by William Birchfield

Maxwell AFB, Ala. - Air University holds 3rd annual Language, Regional Expertise, and Culture (LREC) Symposium (U.S. Air Force photo by William Birchfield)

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Cultural agility and adaptability are the key skills Airmen need to build partnerships around the world. It was this presumption that led hundreds of service members, experts, and linguists to Maxwell Air Force Base for Air University’s 3rd annual Language, Regional Expertise, and Culture AU LREC Symposium focuses on the Air Force, cultural agility, and cultural property protection

Symposium. This year’s symposium theme was cultural agility.

“We chose our theme based on the Air Force Future Operating Concept for 2035, which focuses on operational agility,” said Mr. Howard Ward, the director of the Air Force Culture and Language Center. “The document defines operational agility as being flexible, responsive, and coordinated. In turn, we assert that operational agility depends on cultural agility: flexibility and adaptability, intercultural interactions, responsiveness to new and changing situations, and coordinated with partners and allies”. 

The Air Force Culture and Language Center was formed to help develop cross-culturally competent Airmen. AFCLC organized the annual LREC symposium to bring experts in the LREC community together and discuss ways to further the mission. This year’s two keynote speakers: Brigadier General Matthew C. Isler and Ms. Corine Wegener both emphasized the need to have career-spanning language and cultural training in the military.

Brig Gen Isler is the Assistant Deputy Commander, U.S. Air Forces Center Command, and Assistant Vice Commander, 9th Air Expeditionary Task Force, Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina.

“We need agile Airmen. Airmen who have the cultural awareness, who understand norms, who can read body language, and who can work at the operational level,” Brig Gen Isler said.

Ms. Corine Wegener is the founder of the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield and the Heritage Preservation Officer at the Smithsonian Institution. She highlighted the need for cultural property protection awareness in the military.

“We need to foster that spirit of respect for cultural properties at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels,” Ms. Wegener said, “culture matters not just in actions, but also, the places that people care about”. 

AFCLC’s experts and educators are working on groundbreaking cultural property protection research. AFCLC PHDs, through Air War College and Air University, already teach electives on cultural property protection. The Center’s experts also educate officers on the subject through the General Officer Pre-Deployment Training (GOPAC). 

During a panel discussion at the LREC Symposium, AFCLC’s Assistant Professor of Regional and Cultural Studies (Africa) Dr. Scott Edmondson talked about how this information can be used by the Air Force when making critical decisions in the field.

“This is important, it enables a relationship and demonstrates a resolve to protect what matters to them,” Dr. Edmondson said, “there’s been a lot of work done on this in the Middle East. But, there’s more work to be done”.

The sessions on cultural property protection and cultural agility were just a handful of the many presentations at this year’s LREC Symposium. Experts also met and discussed the German military, Japanese communications styles, social media, and AFCLC’s Language Enabled Airman Program. The LEAP program uses a two-part education method: online training courses and immersions to help Airmen sustain their language skills. LEAP participant Capt Nancy Chavez shared her story during a presentation at this year’s symposium.

“This has truly been a wonderful experience,” Capt Chavez said, “every single day in my duties now in Colombia, I’m using my experiences and my language skills. Skills I was able to sustain in the LEAP program”. 

Dr. Adrian Clive Roberts, 818 MSAS Command Language Education Program Manager, presented at the symposium too. He talked about ways language and culture training are already being used in the field in the military. He compared language training to physical fitness.

“Just like PT, if you don’t constantly train and work out, you won’t pass your PT test, well, it’s the same with language,” Dr. Roberts said, “if you don’t have the language sustainment and enhancement, you will lose it”. 

By the end of the symposium, the many presenters, including Dr. Roberts, met, connected, and shared ideas on a variety of topics. AFCLC’s Director Mr. Howard Ward described the symposium as a wonderful family reunion amongst the LREC community and encouraged the attendees to serve as ambassadors and share the message with the world.

“Don’t go home and forget what you’ve learned here,” Mr. Ward said, “tell your commanders, tell your officers, tell everyone you know about cultural agility”.