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AFCLC’s Language Enabled Airman Program: A strategy for improving pilot retention

  • Published
  • By AFCLC Outreach Team, Jasmine Bourgeois

“If we don’t find a way to turn this around, our ability to defend the nation is compromised.”
Retired Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein

In 2016, retired Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein publicly called the United States Air Force’s pilot shortage a crisis. At the time, the Air Force was reportedly short 1,500 pilots. According to reports, the Air Force still needs an estimated 2,100 pilots – and many say that number is steadily growing.

To address this dilemma, programs have surfaced to keep the Air Force’s best and brightest. Programs to enhance retirement benefits, offer bonuses and monetary compensation, provide educational support, and more have all been stood up amid the brewing fire that seems to be burning Total Force.

And then there’s the Air Force Culture and Language Center’s Language Enabled Airman Program. LEAP has been in existence since 2009 and touts 3,075 scholars around the world. A program initiated to identify and develop a cadre of Airmen with foreign language proficiency, LEAP was not founded to address the pilot retention rate…but, it has helped.

Through LEAP, pilots accepted into the program with a proficiency in a foreign language have the opportunity to continue to pursue their passion and love for languages while actively flying. Of the 3,082 LEAP scholars, there are an estimated 520 pilots in the program, and Capt. Wayne “Astro” Mowery is one of them.

“You always want the marriage of your language training and your tactical training.”
LEAP Scholar Capt. Wayne “Astro” Mowery

An Air Force fighter pilot, Mowery, loves his job and all things aviation. But, before he was flying F-16s, he was just a young cadet studying Arabic at the University of Maryland, College Park with dreams of entering the Air Force and combining his love for the language and culture with his pilot training.

“I studied Modern Standard Arabic and Egyptian Colloquial Arabic in college and did a lot of traveling to the Middle East in my college years. And after that, I tried to travel to that area whenever I could to learn the language and explore and experience the culture,” Mowery said. “This really is a dream.”

A dream initially deferred, according to Mowery. Like most pilots, he spent his first five years training and logging flight hours with limited time to spend with his family or time to devote to his passions.

His remarks are reflected in a 2019 pilot retention survey. In the survey, 1,936 pilots reported that the top two reasons for them leaving the service were: 1) difficulty maintaining work/life balance and family commitments and 2) choice of job assignments/locations.

“I entered the Air Force and went straight into two years of pilot training,” Mowery said, “which included a year of Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals, a year-long B-Course, and a six-month upgrade program in South Korea. So, for the first five years or so, there was no opportunity to use the language. The only thing that kept the language skills alive was LEAP.”

Mowery described LEAP as his “life support for language learning” while he was actively training to be a pilot. Using a two-part system, LEAP helps Airmen maintain their language skills. Through immersions and online eMentor language courses, scholars can continue to master their language abilities with little time away from their units and at a lower cost over time. For Mowery, he was able to maintain his flight hours while fueling his passion for language learning.

“It was difficult, but if you don’t keep up with your language constantly, you will lose it,” Mowery said. “So, I was taking eMentor courses whenever I could. I would meet with the instructors online at night and on the weekends and going on immersions whenever feasible.”


“LEAP really opened the doors for this next assignment.”
LEAP Scholar Capt. Wayne “Astro” Mowery


With LEAP scholars worldwide, AFCLC’s program not only offers a way for members to sustain their language but also affords its scholars the opportunity to network with an exclusive group of like-minded individuals across all career fields.

“I first got wind of this assignment during a Language Intensive Training Event to Muscat, Oman, at a language school. One of the students/fellow LEAP scholars there was a maintenance officer who was a part of the exchange program in Jordan. He forwarded my name up the chain, and shortly after, I received another recommendation from another LEAP scholar who is also a Foreign Area Officer. It was truly the LEAP community who helped get me to Jordan,” Mowery said. “And here’s where you can measure the power of the Language Enabled Airman Program. This assignment is normally difficult to fill with a fighter and language requirement. A lot of the pilots don’t have the language and cultural training for this exchange assignment. Because of LEAP, I was ready immediately and have a much higher language level. Having someone who understands the language and the culture of the area only maximizes this mission and it’s all thanks to LEAP.”

Now, after nine years in the Air Force, Mowery is in-country working as an exchange pilot with the Royal Jordanian Air Force. His wife, Capt Shaharazad Purvis, is working at the embassy.

“PCS’ing to Jordan is literally a dream for my family. For years, I’ve studied the language, the culture and the history. You always want the marriage of your language training and your tactical training and unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. This is an assignment where I can fly the F-16 and use my Arabic language skills and background,” Mowery said.


U.S. Embassy Jordan video link:


End notes:,execute%20the%20National%20Defense%20Strategy.

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