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LEAP to FAO: Giving More than What’s Expected

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  • By Lori M. Quiller, AFCLC Outreach Team

The Foreign Area Officer (FAO) Program deliberately develops Airmen for work in international affairs by facilitating language, regional knowledge, and culture courses.

For Capt Christopher Price, being a newly selected FAO will bring about new adventures, challenges, and opportunities. This summer, Capt Price will be assigned to Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, to teach at the Inter-American Air Force Academy (IAAFA) as a commander for the professional military education flight.

IAAFA has more than 35 technical trainings broken down into squadrons by specialty. However, with Price’s specialized training as a Language Enabled Airman Program (LEAP) scholar and FAO, his talents will be put to the test.

“I’ll mostly teach international squadron officer school and guest lecture at the airman leadership, noncommissioned, and senior noncommissioned officer courses. But, here’s the thing…the entire school curriculum is in Spanish. A lot of our U.S. Air Forces Southern international partners, which includes about 21 partner nations from Mexico, Central America, and South America, come to IAAFA to learn different crafts and they all speak their own forms of Spanish.”

Communicating — listening, speaking, and writing — in a foreign language with high-level professional skills is a make-or-break situation for FAOs, which puts Price and his specialized skills center stage.

“This is truly a unique situation,” Price said. “You must have that niche to not only have passed the DLPT (Defense Language Proficiency Test) for reading and listening but also speak the language proficiently as well. As an instructor, you have to communicate at a high level because you’re teaching material to Latin American military professionals. Furthermore, there is no requirement for the students to speak English before they come to this course. The courses are taught 100 percent in Spanish, so you have to be very proficient, technical, and professional.”

At some point, speaking the language becomes as easy as muscle memory. But according to Price, language is only one part of the equation.

“We are ambassadors for our country, no matter what the setting,” stated Price. “As FAOs, part of our mission is building relationships. It’s a true partnership. When partner nation representatives attend these courses, it’s a total cultural immersion experience. They are watching to see our expressions and how we can connect with them and their cultures. It’s not a case of an American learning Spanish to teach a class. It’s a matter of how we can empathize and share our cultures and common values. I’m not saying there aren’t others who can learn this in school, of course there are. But, having that cross-cultural competency — understanding, feeling, and caring for another culture as if it was your own — is something special and must be innate.”

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