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LEAP Spotlight: Capt. Jimmy Chien

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  • By AFCLC Outreach Team

“Throughout my military career, I have served in several capacities, including Mission Operations Commander of tactical Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance platforms in the Middle East and Africa; Senior Intelligence Duty Officer for Pacific Air Forces Air Operations Center; Deputy Chief of Analysis, Correlation and Fusion Branch and PACAF ISR Directorate Engagements Officer.

“I earned my Bachelor’s Degrees in History and Chinese Language/Literature from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2009 and my Master’s Degree in Chinese Language/Literature in 2015. I currently serve as a 14N Intelligence Officer and was selected in 2021 to become a 16F Foreign Area Officer.

“My language journey began at birth. I was born in Taiwan and immigrated to the United States as a child. Mandarin Chinese is my first language and was the primary language spoken at home. However, through pressures of assimilation and other societal factors, I drifted away from my native language and cultural roots. It wasn’t until college where I found the need to try and get back all I lost. My language journey started anew in the Air Force through the Language Enabled Airman Program. I realized I could use my language and cultural knowledge to contribute to national security missions.  

“I commissioned from Air Force ROTC in 2014 and learned about LEAP from my cadre at my detachment. They knew I could speak another language and did their best to educate me on ways the Air Force could cultivate that skill set. From then on, almost every supervisor I’ve had who knew I spoke Mandarin advised me to join LEAP so I would have this capability officially documented in case I needed to be leveraged in the future.

“I was interested in LEAP because of its focus on developing language and cultural skills. I thought I would have to take on the brunt of self-learning to improve my language once I entered the Air Force, but LEAP helps with that. The program has countless opportunities and resources to help its Scholars achieve their aims. These opportunities and resources would be near impossible to find elsewhere. There is also additional language pay you may be eligible to receive.

“My overall experience as a LEAP Scholar thus far has been nothing short of amazing. LEAP allowed me to continue learning and improving my language. Additionally, it opened the door to many opportunities I didn’t know were available. Through LEAP, I spent a month in Taiwan as a language student, exposing myself to experiences and culture that only an in-country immersion can provide. Because it was a LEAP Language Intensive Training Event, my home unit leadership was more than happy to let me go on this trip. Such an experience was priceless and would eventually become vital to my development as an officer and leader, but also a linguistic and cultural asset to the United States. 

“Through LEAP, I also participated in a Belt and Road Initiative Advanced Special Emphasis LITE, in which Mandarin Scholars along with Scholars from other languages received hands-on instruction from top researchers and experts on the PRC’s global initiative. The aim was to cultivate a cadre of personnel knowledgeable on this subject to shape future strategies and advise senior leaders.  

“As the PACAF ISR Directorate Engagements Officer, I use my LEAP training daily. Within my country portfolio, I have countries that speak Mandarin Chinese. Although our partner nations can all speak English, it is sometimes comforting and easier to communicate in their native language. As a bi-lingual individual, I know how hard it may be to navigate certain intricacies of different languages. Being able to communicate directly using Mandarin alleviates a lot of challenges with using English as the intermediary; it also creates personal bonds rooted in culture and history that would be hard to emulate through discussions in English.  

“LEAP has helped me connect deeper to my language and cultural roots. It has also helped me achieve my professional goal of selection to become a Foreign Area Officer. LEAP provided a means to improve my language and gain additional in-country experience, which were both likely areas that assisted my FAO application package. It would have been extremely difficult to achieve these goals without LEAP’s assistance and resources, which I relied on heavily.

“I wish more people knew about LEAP and the resources and experiences it can provide. LEAP is absolutely vital in ensuring the Air Force continues to develop personnel with language and cultural skillsets. These skillsets will become invaluable as we continue to leverage and foster our partnerships across the world.”

--Chinese Mandarin LEAP Scholar and FAO Capt. Jimmy Chien

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