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LEAP Spotlight: Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Shelton

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  • By AFCLC Outreach Team

“I’m currently working with the Special Warfare Training Support Squadron at Lackland AFB as a Cyber Defense Operator. I was born and raised in China-Mainland, so Mandarin Chinese is my first language. I learned about the Language Enabled Airman Program in 2014 via an email from the Air Force Culture and Language Center.
“What interested me immediately was the Language Intensive Training Event opportunity. I instantly considered it my gateway to more worldwide traveling. During these few years of being a LEAP Scholar, I helped facilitate the visits of the People’s Liberation Army senior leaders, a PLA Air Force visit at Maxwell AFB, translated for medical services at a deployed location, and recently assisted an FBI investigation. 

“Despite how I used to think I could contribute to the Air Force with what I already know about Chinese languages, history, and traditions, the Belt and Road Initiative LITE brought me to another level. It was such an eye-opening experience and a knowledge feast for me. Can you believe I was culture-shocked by my own culture?  

“During those two weeks of study, I relearned some history I thought I had known since middle school. I started to look at history from a whole new perspective and view the world’s current affairs dynamics from a higher dimension. I’m super grateful it was a hybrid event with non-commissioned and commissioned officers among three language groups. We had opportunities to share our opinions and experiences while having cross-culture dialogues in one room. I think this is one of the best ways to embody diversity and inclusion in the Air Force. 

“I felt I was overwhelmed (in a good way) during the first week. The information professors provided in the mornings created waves of knowledge and inspiration that pushed me to want to know more. In the afternoon, during our target language study, my knowledge of the Chinese language and history was constantly being challenged. We had such a blast with our teacher and lots of fun helping each other improve our language skills.  

“Before the BRI LITE, I considered language as a tool used simply to transmit ideas. After the BRI LITE, I started to clearly see how languages shape the way we think and how languages guide our reasoning about events for the first time. For example, I found out the reason why I had a difficult time saying ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m sorry’ in Chinese was because my parents expressed their love and apologies by announcing: ‘Dinner is ready.’ 

“As much as I struggle between two very different cultures as a 1.5 generation immigrant and feel the pain of fighting the battles to resolve the conflicts, I also feel empowered and obligated to utilize this gift and ability to help others overcome misunderstandings and bridge cultures and civilizations. This is also my advice to Airmen interested in LEAP: remember our obligations and responsibilities, build the bridges with our language skills, and find a balanced world of peace and prosperity.”

-Mandarin Chinese LEAP Scholar Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Shelton

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551 E. Maxwell Blvd, Bldg 500, Maxwell AFB, AL 36112


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