AFCLC, Air Force Culture and Language Center, Air Force's Global Classroom

LEAP Spotlight: Maj. Jonathan Vazquez

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  • By AFCLC Outreach Team

“I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, so Spanish is my first language. Growing up in Puerto Rico, all of my education was in Spanish until I joined the USAF. When I was in ROTC, I was able to attend a culture and language program in Brazil. That planted the seed in me to learn other languages. 

“After being exposed to some language training in ROTC, I thought LEAP would be a good opportunity to continue developing additional language skills. We live in a multi-polar world where cultural and language skills are essential to the Air Force mission. Those skills increase our military lethality and shape our interactions with our allies and partners.

“I joined LEAP in 2011 and was able to formalize and enhance my Portuguese language skills. Thanks to LEAP, I was able to get my skills in both Spanish and Portuguese languages to a 3/3 level. 

“During my career, I’ve done a little bit of everything, from intelligence operations at different levels to intelligence instructing at multiple Combatant Commands, including AFRICOM, SOUTHCOM, CENTCOM, and INDOPACOM. Most recently, before my current position at the Joint Staff as Chief, Crisis Response Branch at J23, I was a detachment commander for an airborne linguist unit supporting Air Force Special Operations Command. 

“As a commander who was leading linguists, it was critical that I had a good understanding of the nuances of learning a foreign language. Understanding the learning process and pedagogy of how our brain functions when speaking a different language was value-added when leading Airmen who were going through that process.

“I’ve also had the opportunity to attend the IAAFA Inter-American Officer School. Through LEAP, I’ve attended multiple TDYs, including language and cultural events in Brazil and Spain. I’ve also taken several eMentor courses and attended multiple Language Intensive Training Events, such as the Belt and Road Initiative LITE. 

“While interacting with a key leader during one of my LITEs, he mentioned something I thought was very important. He emphasized that language, more than words, was ‘about perception.’ However, I think LEAP teaches concepts beyond language, such as cultural perception, how to see through someone else’s eyes, and how important it is for us to understand the interconnectivity of the environment we are operating in.

“I think the Belt and Road Initiative LITE was an important training evolution in my career. I worked in the INDOPACOM AOR at the time of the LITE, and the training helped link my operational experience with a formal academic program. Understanding strategic competition and our strategic adversaries are paramount to the challenges we’re encountering now and will continue to encounter in the future.  

“I’ve worked in the INDOPACOM and SOUTHCOM AORs, so the event focused on a common challenge we are facing now and helped me better understand what China is doing globally. It also helped me gain valuable insight and understanding of today’s strategic challenges due to China’s global expansion. However, the most valuable part was bringing together different LEAP Scholars from various AFSCs and academic experts to share our perspectives and experiences. It was a rare opportunity that will pay dividends for years to come. Now, I not only see through an ‘intel’ viewpoint, but I can also see through, for example, a ‘pilot’ or a ‘finance officer’ viewpoint.

“While at the BRI, one of the instructors said something that stuck with me: ‘Try to learn something, teach something, and smile every day.’ Every time I remember that it makes me smile and puts a different perspective on learning. I encourage other Airmen interested in LEAP to be open to learning and challenging themselves every day. You get what you put into it, and there’s always an opportunity to learn something new.

“All these experiences underscored the importance of culture and language in our force and mission, and I owe most of them to LEAP. Language and cultural training are interconnected, and it rounds you personally, professionally, and as a service member. LEAP classes and events help you understand how culture is connected to applying the instruments of power to enable our Department of Defense mission. For example, for Spanish speakers, there are more than 20 countries between South, Central America, and the Caribbean that speak Spanish, and they all have different cultural nuances that shape our engagement with them. LEAP language and cultural training provides that initial exposure and enables our service members to understand how to use that to develop and enhance our military relationships. It is a force multiplier! 

“Thanks to LEAP LITEs, I was able to immerse into the host country’s culture and practice the things I learned in the eMentor courses. It opened my mind to see differently and helped me appreciate the value of culture in our military interactions with mission partners. It also helped me see how those other nations impact what we, as U.S. military, are trying to achieve. The classes raised my awareness of some of my biases and taught me to be more open when interacting with others. That is a byproduct and added benefit we get through LEAP that is often not present in other training programs within the Air Force. 

“Everywhere I go, I can bring my LEAP experience to the fight to help me provide a different perspective. I see LEAP as an investment opportunity, and I believe it greatly benefits the Air Force. More than just learning a language, LEAP has allowed me to learn and appreciate the importance of culture in my job, the Air Force, and our mission. It has also taught me additional skills that have positively impacted how I interact personally with our Airmen. The USAF has a diverse culture, and we have Airmen from different countries and backgrounds. Understanding and appreciation of how culture shapes us has helped me develop better relationships. 

“In the military, we often tell our stories. For me, my leadership journey is the story of my life, from being born and raised in Puerto Rico to where I am today. The USAF and LEAP have changed my life and is helping me build my life story by adding new experiences that directly impact others.”

--Spanish LEAP Scholar Maj. Jonathan Vazquez

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