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From LEAP Scholar to STEM Hero

From LEAP Scholar to STEM Hero

Col. Michael Warner, Deputy Director, Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory, presented Capt. Jorge Díaz with a STEM Hero Award from Technica Magazine during a recent awards program. (Photo courtesy of Great Minds in STEM)

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --


CALIFORNIA – For Capt. Jorge Díaz, persistence and patience were crucial once he decided to apply to the Language Enabled Airmen Program. He missed more than one application deadline, but he also knew LEAP was the key to career success down the road. He kept trying.


“I was in college when our commander told us about LEAP. I always missed the deadline to apply. I would put my package together, get it through my senior leaders and into the system, but I always missed the final deadline for admission,” Díaz explained. “When I got stationed in Los Angeles, I put the deadline to apply on my whiteboard. I wanted to apply because I wanted to get into the FAO pipeline. I always felt like LEAP was a good stepping stone to get into that pipeline, and that was my ultimate goal. LEAP was the first gate to the FAO world.”


While he admits the process is not an easy one, it has helped him climb to the next step in his career – to become a foreign area officer or FAO.


Part of the LEAP includes participating in a Language Intensive Training Event, or LITE, which took Díaz to Spain. LITEs are more than classroom training. These intensive immersion programs place LEAP Scholars in settings in which airmen can stretch their knowledge of not only the language they are learning but also the culture. To reach his goal of becoming a FAO, Díaz needed more than just stellar linguistic skills.


“I needed the language and overseas experiences, and that LITE gave me that,” Díaz said. “For those three weeks, I received more experience in the language and culture to help me build my case and get into the FAO pipeline. Not to mention, it was a fascinating experience! “With LEAP and LITEs, there are opportunities to meet people and make connections outside your career field. Plus, it’s challenging. When I was in Spain for my LITE, I had the chance to make connections to what I saw outside the classroom to what I learned from my mentors and teachers. It’s like a living history course,” he said.


With one master’s degree already under his belt, Díaz is currently working on his second master’s degree in Western Hemisphere Regional Security Studies from the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, Calif. His success in LEAP positioned him to be selected as a FAO for the United States Southern Command.


Previously, Díaz led a 90-member team in the engineering, testing and evaluation of next-generation GPS user equipment valued at more than $3 billion. Recently recognized by Technica Magazine with a STEM Hero Award, Díaz has received many recognitions during his career, including a Joint Service Commendation, Air Force Commendation, National Defense Service, Global War on Terrorism Service, Nuclear Deterrence Operations Service medals, and an Air Force Organizational Excellence Award.


After completing his second master’s degree at the Naval Postgraduate School, he will be an advisor to senior military leaders in Latin America on political-military matters, provide cultural expertise, build long-term relationships with foreign leaders, and develop military relations using his linguistic, cultural and engineering skills as a FAO.


He’ll need all his training for his next assignment as the security cooperation officer in Guatemala at the U.S. Embassy.


“I’ll soon be in an environment that’s going to be using all the language and culture skills that I have. So LEAP and LITE prepared me for this upcoming assignment for sure. It’s a perfect situation, and I’m very excited to get started!” Díaz said.