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Personal Experience Plus Professional Training Equals Mission Success with LEAP

  • Published
  • By Mikala McCurry, AFCLC Outreach Team

In the Air Force Culture and Language Center’s Language Enabled Airman Program, Airmen with working-level foreign language proficiency are trained to utilize their language skills in professional settings. While language proficiency is important, cultural competence and regional knowledge are equally vital to the success of a mission. Many LEAP Scholars, like Serbo-Croatian LEAP Scholar Tech Sgt. Nikola Bozic, have had the opportunity to combine their personal experiences with LEAP training to exceed expectations in the field.

Growing up in Bosnia, which was formerly part of Yugoslavia, Bozic spoke a language known as Serbo-Croatian—a mixture of Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian. After migrating to the United States, Bozic became an American citizen and developed his English language skills to join the United States Air Force.

He was first stationed at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, for six years and deployed to Afghanistan from  October 2017 through April 2018. Upon his return, he moved to Randolph AFB, Texas, where he currently serves at the 559 Medical Squadron as the Public Health Flight Chief supporting the Joint Base San Antonio community. He received his associate degree in Public Health and bachelor’s in Occupational Safety. During this time, he learned about LEAP through a noncommissioned officer and LEAP Scholar in his unit.

“New to the Air Force, I had language and cultural knowledge of the region [I grew up in] and knew the Air Force could use my skills to bridge the gap of cultural understanding. When my NCO told me about LEAP, I immediately seized the opportunity,” Bozic said.

Since being a member of LEAP, Bozic has leveraged every opportunity to develop his language skills and provide support to the USAF.

“All of these different opportunities have arisen to help me hone in on my language skills. I love to use my language skills to help the greatest Air Force in the world and help other countries help us to strengthen relationships and alliances,” Bozic said.

Recently, Bozic accepted a Training Partnership Request that allowed him to utilize his language and cultural skills as well as his personal knowledge and experience to positively influence a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency mission.

“Every time there’s an opportunity for me to use my language skills, I jump on it immediately. I received a tasker from AFCLC to assist the DPAA with a Croatian invoice translation. DPAA’s mission is usually critical and time-sensitive, so I immediately accepted the tasker and got to work. I was actually very familiar with accounting invoices from working with my father in his small business where I helped with accounting. I utilized my personal skills and resources to translate in a way those English-speaking individuals could understand. I was glad I could help and get them taken care of. The history of a region has a major influence on DPAA’s mission. I’m a big history buff, and this was a nice little piece of history and chapter to close and bring closure to families,” he said.

The AFCLC Leadership Team praised Tech. Sgt. Bozic on his excellent support and eagerness to quickly accept and complete the request for DPAA.

“Tech. Sgt. Bozic, on behalf of AFCLC leadership, we just wanted to take a few moments to recognize you for your outstanding support with the DPAA – EUCOM. Your extraordinary efforts to support DPAA with an ongoing case not only helped with our AFCLC – DPAA partnership, but also the Army’s Human Resource Command. On Monday afternoon, July 12, we received a request for a Serbo-Croatian LEAP Scholar to provide the Army’s HRC document translation to an ongoing case; Ms. Meredith Dodds, Language Development Coordinator, recruited for this support task and selected you Tuesday morning.  Within a few hours, you completed this highly important support task while still maintaining your current duties and responsibilities at your unit. This is simply an amazing reflection on your home unit and also AFCLC!” Keith McCabe, LITE program manager, said.

Mr. Michael Carroll, Acquisition and Procurement Cell, also expressed his appreciation for Bozic and his support.

“I want to add my sincere thanks for the work in closing this action out for us so quickly.  Closing this ratification out before we hit the end of the year was an important goal for my team, and your work is making it possible.”
Lt. Col. Aaron Cummings, U.S. Army DPAA, added, “I appreciate the big things you all [LEAP Scholars] do, but sometimes it's these smaller things that highlight the endless value that you bring to the team.”
In addition to his impactful support to this mission, Bozic continues to be a model representative and advocate for LEAP.

“Thus far, LEAP has been an amazing experience; it gives me the challenge to utilize my language skills in a way that I wouldn’t normally do. Being in this program helps me communicate professionally and express myself clearly, so the person I am translating for can understand me. Having local native speakers involved in missions can help bridge the gap in understanding in foreign nations and assist forces in getting the mission going and accomplishing tasks. Even if a Scholar is not a native speaker and learned the language while in the Air Force, the Language Intensive Training Events help those Airmen to learn history and live day to day as natives lives; this is exactly what happened during a LITE I attended in Zagreb, Croatia, with native-speaking Serbo-Croatians and American Scholars who learned Serbo-Croatian as a second language. Several of the Scholars with us on the LITE were born in the U.S. and were able to learn cultural and regional cues from native speakers and take that knowledge on to their next missions.

“I appreciate the opportunities that I’ve had since I’ve been a part of USAF. If there is an opportunity to join LEAP, it will be challenging, but it is a great opportunity to strengthen international relations and bridge that gap as a native speaker. That experience will change you forever. I recommend every native language speaker with working-level language proficiency apply for LEAP. Even Airmen who speak English as their first language but have learned a new language and want to enhance their proficiency would greatly benefit from LEAP,” Bozic said.

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