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LEAP Spotlight: Lt. Col. Sylvia Kim

LEAP Spotlight: Lt. Col. Sylvia Kim

“Many of my LEAP experiences have been the highlight of my Air Force career,” Lt. Col. Sylvia Kim said. Photos courtesy of Lt. Col. Sylvia Kim.

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Sylvia Kim is a member of a very elite club. She is one of more than 3,000 scholars in the Air Force Culture and Language Center’s Language Enabled Airman Program. As a lifelong language learner, she instantly knew LEAP was a perfect fit.

“I finished my last year of undergraduate studies at the Sorbonne University in Paris, France, studying  French Literature and Philosophy, where I became native-level fluent in French. I’m also a native Korean speaker, born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I worked in International Development for eight years, and what interested me about the Air Force was the opportunity to be assigned overseas and work with partner nations.

Shortly after I was commissioned, I applied for the Language Enabled Airman Program. I’ve been in LEAP for 10 years (selected in 2011), and I can honestly say many of my LEAP experiences have been the highlight of my Air Force career.”

Over the years, her primary Air Force Specialty Code didn’t always offer an opportunity to use her language skills. Through LEAP, she continued her primary duties, sustained her language abilities, and saw a side of the Air Force that she never knew existed.

“Through LEAP, I have been able to work in these operational areas that a medic would otherwise never be exposed to and use my unique skillsets to support the mission. I’ve been able to build relationships at every assignment, and I’m forever grateful.

In 2013, I went to Algeria for a Language Intensive Training Event to work with the U.S. Embassy and the Algerian Gendarmerie (military police force). I was able to work with the FBI and DEA to lead anti-drug trafficking, counter-narcotics, and border security training.

In 2015, I was on another LITE at the U.S. Embassy in Paris during the 13 Nov 2015 terrorist attacks outside the Stade de France and Bataclan. My chain of command and the LEAP team reached out to me because they were concerned for my safety but knew I was needed. During this once-in-a-lifetime experience, I used my language skills and jumped in and assisted with several high-level visits, including the Vice Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Paul J. Selva and President Obama’s visit for the global climate change conference COP21, where I coordinated all military aircraft transportation assets, Secret Service Personnel and White House staff flying into Paris Orly airport, and also worked with Marine One to secure the helicopter landing zones for rotary airlift.”

Currently, Lt. Col. Kim works as a director of operations in the U.S. Transportation Command’s Patient Movement Requirements Center-East at Ramstein Air Force Base, where her unit regulates 6,000 patients a year.

“Since the pandemic, we’ve completed 97 percent of COVID-19 patient movements for the Department of Defense. This job is extremely rewarding. I may not use my foreign languages every day, but I use my subject matter expertise of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, communicating with downrange and host-nation facilities, working with the NATO-EU COVID Response Team, airlifting coalition members, and coordinating with their patient evacuation control centers and senior military officials to get them to definitive care in their respective countries. I also use my expertise in speaking with the Bundespolizei on immigration matters and corresponding with the Bundeswehr PECC, Luxembourg Air Rescue, or Europe Air Transport Command. My respect and cultural sensitivity ensures flawless coordination across the interagencies, NATO and coalition partner nations. 

I’m proud to say that I’ve been a part of LEAP for 10 years now. I’ve watched LEAP grow to include thousands of people from all different career fields and walks of life who participate in LITEs all around the globe. In my spare time, I love to mentor and develop future LEAP scholars and hear their stories. Every Airman has a story, as do I.”

French LEAP Scholar Lt. Col. Sylvia Kim