By Seth Maggard, AFCLC Outreach Team
/ Published January 08, 2017
U.S. Navy Divers of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 prepare to lower the stage to conduct an underwater recovery operation in the Tyrrhenian Sea, Italy, Oct. 6, 2016. The Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 is working with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) to locate U.S. service members who went missing when a B-24 Liberator crashed during WWII. The mission of DPAA is to provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and the nation. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lloyd Villanueva)
September 2016, an American B-24 bomber aircraft lies crashed at the bottom of the ocean, off the coast of Italy. Its 8 man crew entombed among the mangled fuselage and sea life for decades. It’s time to bring them home, but before that can be done, someone has to communicate between the Italian government and US agency trying to find them. That’s where Capt. Catanese comes in.
Speaking Italian and being able to study at one of Italy’s premier schools seems like it would be enough for most service members to be satisfied, but that is not the case with Capt. Marco Catanese, a Manpower Determinants Flight Commander with the Air Force Manpower Analysis Agency at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas.
After completing training with the Language Enabled Airman Program, at the Air Force Culture and Language Center, he took his language skills to incredible new depths, quite literally, as he assisted divers in accounting for missing American war veterans.
The journey started with Capt. Catanese’s affinity for learning secondary languages from a young age. He brought these skills along when he swore in as an Air Force officer through ROTC. LEAP seemed like the next viable option that would help him sustain and enhance his language skills.
After selection, he completed two of the program’s 48-hour synchronous online courses, known as eMentor, and capped it off with LEAP’s capstone Language Intensive Training Event and became fully immersed in Italian culture while attending Scuola Leonardo da Vinci and saw his scores improve from a 2+/2+ to a 3/3 on his next Defense Language Proficiency Test.
“It was easy with programs like eMentor where you can schedule training around your career and other things in life,” he said.
He also speaks German with a 3/2+ proficiency.
“LEAP really set up a foundation for me to take all of my language and culture pieces that I had been acquiring through all of my travels and put it into something useful,” he said.
With such an impressive log of language training, Capt. Catanese did not wish to let all of it go to waste by considering himself finished.
In late 2016, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency was looking for someone to assist their members with a joint naval operation with the Italian Coast Guard, its Carabinieri military police, and local divers’ association to attempt to retrieve the missing crew’s remains after locating the B-24 wreckage.
“My brother, a TSgt, forwarded me an email that was sent to everyone on his installation requesting active duty foreign language speakers from DPAA and he knew it would interest me,” Catanese said.
DPAA’s mission is “to provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and the nation,” and made no exception when planning to work alongside multinational partners now.
Capt. Catanese, fresh from his Language Intensive Training Event in Milan, was a postured candidate to fulfill this role.
He contacted them about his training with LEAP and skills in Italian. DPAA assessed him and soon had orders and funding set up for him to take part in the next chapter of his cultural immersion, off the Italian coast.
“I knew that I had some great training under my belt, but there was still unique opportunities out there like this one,” he said “in addition to a very quick turnaround time, I was being thrown at naval and maritime Italian situations, and intricate challenges.”
If it seems like this is a large task, to synchronize all communication between these two nations searching for decades-old remains of downed Airmen, that’s because it is.
The pressures soon eased off as Catanese arrived and started building relationships with his DPAA and Italian counterparts. The technical jargon was less of a challenge as it became everyday usage.
“At first, it was almost impossible to try and communicate word-for-word the entire detailed process of the underwater dredging system and filling the bucket, but in time all of our confidence and knowledge became better and we worked together very well,” said Catanese.
Capt. Catanese’s experiences, while unique, are very typical in LEAP. The free Air Force language program postures its members for real-world language taskings, such as DPAA missions, following extensive training and vetting of their LREC skills.
“We didn’t end up recovering their remains,” he said “but I sincerely hope to be called back when [DPAA and the Italian government] return to try again.”
Although the search yielded little more than sand and debris for the divers, it was a success for Catanese.
The benefits of eMentor, LITEs, and opportunities like this are overwhelming when cultural-competency is assessed by both our officers and their commands even after returning home. Their skills are sharpened and they become exponentially more valuable to the entire US coalition partnership when properly postured with focused training and utilized in a way that builds on their training.
“I hope to commute all of this experience into a Regional Affairs Strategist position, and opportunities like this one with DPAA supported by my LEAP training are perfect roadmaps to success in those goals.”
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