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AFCLC and Air University’s first virtual LREC Symposium draws thousands of people

AFCLC’s Director Mr. Howard Ward giving his opening remarks

AFCLC’s Director Mr. Howard Ward giving his opening remarks

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --

Once a year, hundreds of people travel to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama for the Air Force Culture and Language Center and Air University’s annual Language, Regional Expertise, and Culture (AU LREC) Symposium. Scholars and practitioners from across the Department of Defense (DoD) and the LREC community come together to meet, greet, and share ideas.

This year, the pandemic and travel restrictions changed everything and AFCLC leadership made the decision to convert to a virtual format. The silver lining: hosting the symposium virtually allowed for more than 2,000 people to attend from all over the world including Japan, Kenya, and Germany.

“Since the symposium began, our registration numbers continually increased and we are so thrilled,” said Mr. Ward, AFCLC’s Director.

The first-ever virtual event still featured panel discussions and presentations much like the traditional symposium and included an all-star lineup of guest speakers including opening remarks from the Secretary of the Air Force Barbara M. Barrett and the Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force Gen Stephen W. “Steve” Wilson and.

Barrett highlighted the center’s Expeditionary Culture Field Guides (ECFG), pocket-sized handbooks and app that provide invaluable culture and language knowledge; AFCLC’s many academic efforts including the center’s online Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) courses and the center’s executive leadership courses or Pre-assignment Acculturation Courses (PAC). She also highlighted AFCLC’s Language Enabled Airman Program (LEAP), a career-spanning, volunteer program open to officers and enlisted across most General Purpose Force (GPF) Air Force and Space Force specialties to sustain and enhance the existing foreign language skills of Airmen and Space Professionals. Furthermore, while highlighting LEAP, she mentioned several LEAP scholars by names.

Barrett’s remarks, as a whole, acknowledged the AFCLC’s many accomplishments and historical achievements over the past ten years.

“Although culture and language skills proved critical to counterinsurgency efforts following the attacks of 9/11, ‘just-in-time training’ proved insufficient in developing the appropriate depth and breadth Airmen and allies needed to operate effectively. The establishment of the Air Force Culture and Language Center represented a strategic pivot toward expanding our cultural understanding of allies and partners,” Barrett said.

Hindsight 2020

Sticking to this year’s symposium theme “Hindsight 2020,” Barrett, along with all the featured speakers, continued to examine the last ten years of global operations and the effects that LREC training had in planning and executing U.S. goals, as well as, looking to the future. Many of these remarks also included mentions of the National Defense Strategy and the Air Force’s shift to focus on Great Power Competition.

During his virtual message, Mr. Russell J. Frasz, Director, Force Development, Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel, and Services, Headquarters U.S. Air Force and the AF Senior Language Authority stated,

“With this renewed emphasis on competition and war-fighting, language is an essential war-fighting capability. The ability to speak in a foreign language is a weapon in our Air and Space arsenal. LREC competency skills are critical for the successful engagement with partners and lead to a deeper understanding of known and potential enemies,” Frasz said. “Our country depends on these Air and Space professionals’ LREC skills to carry out operations around the world. We must develop Airmen now to anticipate the future Air Force’s needs”.

LEAP Scholar Maj Sofia Ciro during the AU LREC Symposium

Meeting of the minds virtually

The free virtual event garnered more than 2,000 registrants, nearly a dozen featured speakers and 80 different panels and presentations over the course of three days. For the attendees, each day of the symposium offered a new opportunity to learn and interact with Department of Defense professionals and academic experts from around the world. In separate break-out sessions, registrants were able to pick and choose from a variety of topics and speakers. There were sessions on partnerships, interoperability, LEAP, global basing, violent extremism, and more.

A dedicated committee of employees worked hard to schedule, plan, and organize the three-day event including AFCLC’s Director of Staff Mr. Gregory Day, AFCLC’s Assistant Professor of Regional and Cultural Studies (Asia), and AFCLC’s Assistant Professor of Cross-Cultural Relations Dr. Patricia Fogarty.

Dr. Fogarty said there have been new opportunities with this virtual format.

“This year, we’ve gotten more presentations from people who might not have been able to attend in person during a regular year,” she said.

LEAP Scholar Capt Elizabeth Amos was able to listen into several different speakers and presenters. She said she thoroughly enjoyed anthropologist/archaeologist Dr. Laurie Rush’s remarks.

“Great job on this virtual symposium! I loved the flexibility and the opportunity to be able to drop in on different presentations throughout the day,” Amos said.

LEAP Scholar Maj Sofia Ciro was also able to attend this year’s symposium while working from home. She said each day was a new learning experience.

“I loved the interactive approach,” Ciro said, “the presenters were engaging and the chat functions allowed us to ask questions and foster an exchange of ideas”.

Planning is already underway for the 2021 AU LREC Symposium and the theme is tentatively set as “The Great Power of Culture”. For more information and updates, visit our symposium website: https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/AFCLC/AU-LREC/.