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A Conversation with AFCLC’s New Senior LEAP Scholar – Col Antonio Delgado

  • Published
  • By Lori Quiller, AFCLC Outreach Team

Following the retirement of Maj Gen Patrick Higby in September 2020, Col Antonio Delgado became the highest-ranking officer in the Language Enabled Airman Program (LEAP), part of the Air Force Culture and Language Center (AFCLC). A physician by trade, Delgado is flight commander of the Hyperbaric Medicine Clinic and assigned to the 60th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, CA. “LEAP is a great program,” Delgado said. “I truly believe in its mission, and its impact on security cooperation engagements and the opportunity to be a face of the program in some fashion is a true honor.”

Born in Colombia, Delgado earned his medical degree from the National University of Colombia in 1988, and thereafter, immigrated to the United States. In 1996 he completed an Internal Medicine Residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, then went into academic medicine with the Chicago Medical School and later with the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was part of the UIC Hispanic Center of Excellence and was appointed to the Hispanic Medical Association, the minority chapter of the American Medical Association (AMA).

In 2007 Col Delgado joined the United States Air Force (USAF). As a flight surgeon, he helped train international flight surgeons from the Advanced Aerospace Medicine for International Medical Officers course (AAMIMO) at the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine (USAFSAM). He partnered with AFSOUTH and SOUTHCOM on several international engagements in South America. During this time, Delgado was accepted into the LEAP program, an event that aligned with his desire to be part of a cadre of language-enabled, cross-cultural Airmen in the USAF.

Perhaps one of the main misconceptions about LEAP is that native language speakers have an easy time in the program. But, that’s not the case, according to Delgado, whose first language is Spanish. “While I grew up in Colombia, I’ve been in the U.S. for more than 20 years. LEAP has helped me maintain my native language skills by providing me the opportunity to take Spanish language classes. Their academic rigor and seasoned professors challenge the student’s skills such that I personally have had to buckle down and study hard to keep up with the class requirements. I think that’s how it should be!”

In an assignment in 2015, Delgado was an International Health Specialist to the USAF as liaison to the National Guard and Chief of Global Health Engagements branch at the Office of the National Guard Bureau Joint Surgeon. During that time, he had the opportunity to stretch his linguistic skills and dig into his culture skills as well.

“So, when you have the opportunity to use your cultural competence skills with your language skills, and for me – my medical training, it’s a unique opportunity to see how they enhance each other and create a synergism, making security cooperation events far more productive and valuable. The State Partnership Program, which I worked on with the National Guard Bureau, aligned one National Guard unit with one country. And that’s not a simple handshake agreement,” Delgado laughed. “It allowed me to work with high-level officers from different countries, building and leveraging relationships, and creating support. This is a prime time for LEAP. Our U.S. government (USG) and service leaders have been very clear in stating that partnerships are a priority. This is the real value and strength of LEAP. I view this program as a powerful security cooperation tool that creates incredibly capable and dependable partners, and which directly supports USG security agenda - and that’s powerful!”

Since 2009, LEAP has developed, enhanced, and sustained existing language capabilities in thousands of officers and enlisted across most general purpose force (GPF) Air and Space Force specialty codes. With the growing need to integrate language, regional expertise, and culture (LREC) skills into our GPF, LEAP’s objective is to develop language-enabled, cross-cultural Airmen and Space Professionals who can operate seamlessly with air forces, space programs, and populations around the world. These uniformed professionals' LREC abilities can then be utilized for Language Designated Positions, unexpected, short-notice requirements or planned exercises, conferences, and mobile training teams to enhance interoperability, strengthen partnerships, and build partner capacity.

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