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LEAP Spotlight: 1st Lt Kent Romney

LEAP Scholar 1st Lt Kent Romney

Photo Courtesy of Lt Kent Romney

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --

“Although I had picked up Ukrainian from studying Russian and living in Ukraine for a couple of years, it was not until I enrolled into the Language Enabled Airman Program (LEAP) that I received any formal Ukrainian language study. As such, LEAP has been instrumental in my Ukrainian language and intercultural development. Not only has LEAP provided me with formal language training opportunities such as eMentor online language courses and Language Intensive Training Events (LITEs), which I will expound further upon, and informal training resources through its relationship with DLI, but it has also continually provided me with guidance and direction I need to maximize my language and intercultural potential during my career as an Air Force Officer. I see participation in the Air University Language, Regional Expertise, and Culture (AU LREC) Symposium as an outstanding opportunity to both foster my language and intercultural development and also share my experiences of how LEAP has already helped me to enhance interoperability with partner nation militaries.

My first eMentor course began in January 2018 and ran through April 2018. During the course, I met with my Ukrainian tutor twice a week for two hours and because the course was a one-on-one format we were able to adjust the course to meet my needs and requests. For example, I requested that we speak use Russian instead of English as the reference language for Ukrainian. This meant that I would ask clarifying questions about Ukrainian vocabulary and phrasing in Russian instead of English. My tutor completely accommodated my request and, as a result, both my Ukrainian and Russian language skills improved immensely from the eMentor course. My tutor also adjusted the course to incorporate more discussions and topics which bolstered my language skills in preparation for my future opportunities to work with the Ukrainian military.

The instruction I received and, more specifically, the specific adjustments my tutor made in my eMentor course were invaluable during my Advanced LITE. For my Advanced LITE, I interpreted for Ukrainian Special Forces personnel at the Naval Small Craft Intelligence and Technical Training School (NAVSCIATTS) for their Black Sea Initiative. Without question, this Advanced LITE was the greatest language and intercultural challenge I have ever faced. Although I consider myself proficient in Russian and Ukrainian (I have a 3/3 DLPT in both), this LITE exposed me to the intense linguistic and professional development needed to serve as an official interpreter. Fortunately, the extremely challenging nature of the LITE yielded significant Russian and Ukrainian linguistic progress in speaking, writing, listening, reading, and intercultural communication. Besides the obvious benefits of interpreting to speaking and listening ability, interpreting also allowed me to relay culture between the instructors and students.

Perhaps the most impactful takeaway for me from this LITE is that person to person relationships are the foundation upon which successful US international policy is built. Although the material at NAVSCIATTS is no doubt extremely useful for the current challenges the Ukrainian military is facing, the most significant benefit for both sides is the personal and professional relationships developed between military members. I saw that NAVSCIATTS instructors and staff put a constant emphasis on developing relationships with foreign military members and ensuring that those relationships continue to develop through both personal and professional means. I look forward to more opportunities to assist in implementing US international policy by developing relationships with foreign military members in environments like NAVSCIATTS.

Besides the benefits of military-to-military interpersonal relationships, working with Ukrainian military personnel opened me up to the serious challenges of modernization and westernization for former Soviet bloc states. The two most apparent challenges are outdated technology and the officer-enlisted relationship. Tackling the technological challenges is not within my power, but I learned even from this short experience that there is much we can do as language enabled airmen to confront the second challenge. The Ukrainian officer-enlisted relationship is, of course, a relic of the Soviet era – an example of how the past can shape the future if not corrected. Fully correcting this mistake of the Soviet-era past in the Ukrainian military will take years, but in any case, it was immensely rewarding for me to empower the enlisted members and help the officers see the merits of this as well.

Additionally, from my conversations with Ukrainian officers, I gained valuable insights into the challenges of facing a near-peer adversary due to their active involvement in confronting Russian. These conversations were particularly enlightening for me considering we all work in intelligence and, at the time, with unmanned aerial systems (UAS). Indeed, these conversations influenced my work at my first assignment as a Mission Operations Commander. As for my long-term Air Force career, these interactions demonstrated the significant potential benefits that come from cooperation with foreign militaries including knowledge exchange and concept testing. Specifically, in the case of cooperating with the Ukrainian military, their fight against Russian separatists can be used as a testing ground for tactics against a near-peer adversary. Obviously, the potential strategic benefits of this cooperation are enormous for both sides.

I consider my LEAP experience, specifically my Advanced LITE, to be among the highlights of my career thus far as an Intelligence Officer. My eMentor experience prepared me for an Advanced LITE that was at the same time immensely challenging and rewarding. The challenging nature of the LITE spurred significant linguistic, intercultural, and professional development for myself. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, I was able to establish strong personal and professional partnerships with Ukrainian military personnel and witness firsthand the importance of interpersonal relationships in spurring cooperation between the U.S. and foreign militaries. The skills and experiences LEAP has provided me have been invaluable in my development as a young Intelligence Officer.

Owing to my unquestionably positive experience with LEAP, I would like to participate as a LEAP panel member and attendee at the AU LREC Symposium. I want to share my “LEAP story” with the symposium as I believe it is a great example of the immense benefits the program has for airmen. Namely, LEAP provides unmatched development of interoperability and language skills as well as the opportunities to witness and even participate firsthand in the formation of military partnerships between the U.S. and other nations. Moreover, my LEAP experience, specifically my immensely challenging Advanced LITE, illustrates some of the principal challenges LEAP scholars face in the development of their language and interoperability skills. Consequently, by sharing my experiences I can hopefully help find ways to mitigate these challenges for other LEAP scholars. As a whole, my “LEAP story” has prepared me to contribute meaningfully to this year’s AU LREC symposium and show how the past shapes our future in military partnerships both for good and for bad.”

- 1st Lt Kent Romney-