LEAP Scholars Forge New Ground during SOUTHAM Conference

LEAP scholars who participated in the SOUTHAM Air Chief’s

LEAP scholars who participated in the SOUTHAM Air Chief’s Conference from left included: MSgt Diego Yoshisaki, Maj Patrick Beville, Lt Col Kenya Colón, TSgt Andres Diaz Medina, TSgt Robert Segarra, Lt Jacob Pond, Capt Spencer Nelson, Lt Nibaldo Colina, TSgt Agustin Gonzales, SSgt Rodney Rodriguez, TSgt Michael Trevino Rosales, TSgt Julio Santos Alvarez and Maj Luis Calvo.


ARIZONA – The Language Enabled Airmen Program develops foreign language and cross-cultural skills in Airmen who can better support the application of airpower through strengthening partnerships and interoperability. LEAP facilitates unique opportunities, such as courses that blend classroom learning with multinational intercultural applications. Earlier this month, Capt. Spencer Nelson, Deputy Staff Judge Advocate, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, and a group of LEAP scholars benefited from such an event when they participated in a regional studies course in concert with the South American Air Chiefs and Senior Enlisted Leaders Conference.


The three-week event, sponsored by the Air Force Culture and Language Center and hosted by 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, allowed LEAP scholars to enhance their language skills for future partnership building, security cooperation, and international affairs assignments. LEAP scholars participated in regional studies, basic translation, and non-consecutive interpretation classes for the first two weeks. In the third week, LEAP scholars served as escorts and informal interpreters for designated representatives from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru. The conference was an opportunity for U.S. and partner leaders to discuss capabilities and issues of each nation’s air force in space, cyberspace and transnational threats. 


“For our first two weeks, we attended classes that LEAP sponsored. We learned the difference between interpretation and translation. Interpretation deals with verbal communication and translation deals with written communication, and we learned the basics of how to do each,” Capt Nelson explained. “We translated PowerPoint documents for the conference. So, during the conference, one screen would have the English version of the PowerPoint, and the other screen would have the Spanish version. We translated five or six PowerPoint slides from English into Spanish.”


Translating conference materials from English into Spanish was only part of the job for the LEAP scholars. The real fun came during those times when their interpretation skills were put to the test during one-on-one interpersonal settings. According to Nelson, the group members were instructed to only speak Spanish to the conference participants during the times the LEAP scholars were acting in the roles of interpreters.


“A LEAP scholar was assigned to each delegation. When the delegations ate, professional interpreters were not there, so a LEAP scholar would go with their delegation and interpret as needed. There was always an interpreter with Maj. Gen. Andrew Croft, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) commander and CMSgt. John G. Storms, 12th Air Force Command Chief Master Sergeant. Anyone who did not speak Spanish was able to get translation or interpretation from US. There were professional interpreters during the conference and lectures, but we were able to help out during the breaks, meals and when we were escorting our delegations,” Nelson said.


This first-of-its-kind LITE, with a three-week Spanish language study and military engagement practicum, may set a trend, and Nelson is fine blazing the trail.


“It truly was a phenomenal opportunity to shine, especially since we were working directly with Gen. Croft, Air Chiefs from our South American partners, and the Senior Enlisted Leaders. It was a great opportunity for us to interact with individuals at that high of a level in a foreign language. I have been on other LITEs, but there were no work-related components to them. So having the conference at the end of two weeks of classes was great, because we put into practice everything we learned during that intensive training before the conference. It was great to use customs and courtesies in Spanish and to use formal Spanish in that setting with distinguished guests. It made the blended LITE experience very worthwhile,” Nelson said. “Opportunities like this strengthen us as LEAP Scholars and the LEAP program as a whole, not only because the training is invaluable, but because we are also able to reinforce it by putting it into practice with high-level leaders. It showed those high-level leaders what LEAP is about and that we have an awesome program of trained professionals who can come in and assist with interpretation for these formal events.”


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