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Zooming Ahead with Distance Learning

A mosque in Niger. Photo by AFCLC’s Dr. Scott Edmondson

A mosque in Niger. Photo by AFCLC’s Dr. Scott Edmondson

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --

Throughout October 2020, the Air Force Culture and Language Center piloted an unprecedented learning model: virtual Language, Regional Expertise and Culture sessions for Africa instructed by Language Enabled Airman Program scholars, a foreign area officer, and AFCLC faculty via ZoomGov.

These sessions were the first of their kind, demonstrating AFCLC’s commitment to tailored learning and meeting service members where they are.

“I’m very proud of the innovative learning model the team developed for this event,” said Howard Ward, director of AFCLC. “Education has always been the leading edge of the greatest airpower achievements from the early pioneers and legends of the Air Force to the Airmen of today. Providing operationally relevant education [in a virtual environment] is cutting edge, but also true to the long tradition of Air University being a career-spanning part of every Airman’s and Space Professional’s development.”

These four virtual sessions utilized instructors from around the globe, delivering a historical, cultural, and linguistic background on the country of Niger for deployed members in this region. Having a fundamental understanding of the history, languages, and cultures of Niger connects U.S. service members with partner nation military members to build and enhance partnerships. As Niger is a former French colony with French as an official language, two of the sessions focused on greetings and phrases in the French language, the history of the French language and colonialism in Niger, as well as Nigerien communication styles. AFCLC’s global classroom linked instructors in Japan, England, Germany, and the United States with the students in Niger to provide this relevant content.  

French LEAP scholar Master Sgt. Alain Mukendi kicked off this event with the first virtual French session, drawn from AFCLC’s Niger Expeditionary Culture Field Guide.

“The ability to convey trustworthiness and respect is essential in Niger,” said Mukendi. Additionally, Nigeriens don’t complain about pain or hardships going on. Greetings are all about the delivery. If there’s any negativity or problems in your life, you wouldn’t mention them when someone asks how you’re doing.”

Students tuning in from multiple locations across Niger found the lessons eye opening and insightful.

“The class was great. All instructors were extremely knowledgeable and presented great material,” said Master Sgt. Jessica Busa, 409th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron. “It was great to have the multiple perspectives. I thank Master Sergeant Mukendi and all of you for putting it together. I was excited to review the recordings.”

Dr. Scott Edmondson, assistant professor of Regional and Cultural Studies for Africa at Air Command and Staff College and Air War College, provided a detailed history of Niger, colonialism, the many ethnic identities in Niger, and some useful phrases in French.

Edmondson underscored the multicultural and multilingual nature of Niger.

“No region in Niger is homogenously one thing or another, so when we’re speaking languages and interacting with folks it helps to have a ‘this and that,’ too, mindset as opposed to an ‘either, or’ mindset.”

Sandwiched between the French sessions was a session dedicated to the Hausa language. Hausa LEAP scholar Maj. Alexander Adeleye, a Medical Service Corps officer and international health specialist, taught members useful words and phrases. Utilizing Hausa, not just the colonial language of French, reinforces AFCLC’s commitment to the importance of indigenous languages of African countries and allows Airmen to connect with partners on a deeper level than they could by using only the colonial languages. Quoting Nelson Mandela, Adeleye said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to a man in his language, that goes to his heart.”

The students in the class enjoyed learning basic Hausa and were eager for more.

“That was a lot of good information. I could go over it a few times,” remarked Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Hains from the 724 Expeditionary Air Base Squadron.

Maj. Norman Wilson, an Afrikaans and French LEAP scholar and an Africa foreign area officer, taught the final lesson. He is a special operations pilot who currently works as U.S. Africa Command’s embedded officer to the United Kingdom. Before his current assignment, he worked as the deputy chief of the Office of Security Cooperation at the U.S. embassy, Niamey, Niger. In his Niger culture session, he discussed his heartfelt reflections and unforgettable experiences as a FAO working in Niger.

“People are what make culture,” he said. “As we pivot to Great Power Competition, and we’re looking for influence and impact, it’s these one-on-one relationships that, I would argue even more so than the training you’re doing, is what’s going to determine the direction of U.S. interests and security on the continent.”

These four sessions provided a means for instructors in four different countries worldwide to interact with students in Niger and furnish first-rate language and culture education via the global classroom.

“The service members in Niger will be even more successful through enhanced interoperability with their host nation peers, and education from AFCLC at Air University is the seed of it all.” said Ward.