AFCLC, Air Force Culture and Language Center, Air Force's Global Classroom

LEAP: Captain finds use for Russian in Syria

  • Published
  • By Capt Evgenia Peduzzi, LEAP

Over the last decade, the dynamic and multicultural nature of combat operations demonstrated a critical Air Force need to develop Airmen who not only know their job, but are culturally aware and language capable. The Air Force Culture and Language Center stood up the Language Enabled Airman Program to advance this cause, and today this program “sustains, enhances and utilizes the existing language skills and talents of Airmen” across the total force.

From its inception, LEAP presented a multitude of success stories in which language integration yielded overwhelmingly positive results in Air Force operations.

One of such recent stories began in November 2015, when LEAP empowered commanders to immediately identify and direct language capable Airmen to support a historical operational mission in a one of a kind exchange between the United States and the Russian Federation.

In September 2015, Russian Federation Air Forces arrived in Syrian airspace per the request of the Syrian regime.

As the Russians entered Syrian airspace, the Coalition had already conducted a successful air campaign against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria for a year. From an airspace deconfliction aspect, the presence of Russian Air Forces presented a new challenge for safety of flight – neither of the sides shared any operational information, coordinated strikes, or spoke the same language.

To lessen the chances of a mid-air collision or a dangerous misunderstanding, the United States Department of Defense and the Russian Ministry of Defense signed the Memorandum of Understanding in October 2015, establishing safety procedures for aircraft flying over Syria. This was the first military to military engagement between the United States and the Russian Federation since 1998. As a key provision of the MoU, a hotline linked the command centers of both the Coalition and the Russian forces.

This hotline allowed for real-time operational communication between the respective senior commanders, allowing for the first time to pass advanced warning of impending operations and establishing a safer operational environment for both sides.   

With the establishment of this hotline, the Combined Air Operations Center now required immediate Russian language support. Thanks to the LEAP resources and the career fields of Russian Linguist and Cultural Advisor, a team of Russian interpreters was assembled to create the first-ever Air Force Central Command Russia Analysis Divison. Led by myself, LEAP Capt Evgenia Peduzzi, the RAD served as liasons to daily high level real-time negotiations between Coalition leadership and Russian general officers in Syria. In November 2015, I personally assisted CAOC commanders in negotiations to ease tension between Russia and the Coalition directly after a Russian aircraft was shot down. 


The capability provided by LEAP, along with the work accomplished by the Russia Analysis

Division was recognized by commanders and leaders across the Air Force.

Both the Combined Forces Air Component Commander Lt. Gen. Charles Brown, and the Deputy Combined Forces Air Component Commander, Major Gen Scott Zobrist recognized the team and stressed the significance of the cultural perspective RAD brought to the fight. Also, when speaking with the Russian Analysis Division, the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody emphasized the importance of developing language capable Airmen within the Air Force.

He stressed the criticality of quickly identifying and directing these Airmen into an ad-hoc vital mission such as that of the Russia Analysis Division. “The expertise you provided directly impacted and drove the de-escalation process during such a historical time”, said Cody.

Language support provided by LEAP for this integral mission resulted in a pivotal strategic military engagement, bolstering Coalition theater security in Syria. This situation highlighted the importance of having language capable Airman on hand from across the Air Force who can forward deploy on short notice and support commanders facing similar challenges.

It also showed that investing in the development and sustainment of language in the Air Force is no longer just optional, but has become a necessity.


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