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LEAP to FAO Spotlight: Capt. Kalynn Mendez

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  • By AFCLC Outreach Team

“I am a native of Arkansas. I got my B.A. from the University of Arkansas in International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies and my M.A. through California University of Pennsylvania in Arabic Language and Linguistics. I am a Logistics Readiness Officer. I have been stationed at Hill AFB and Whiteman AFB and deployed once to Kabul, Afghanistan. 

“My language journey began in 2010 when I took my first Spanish class in high school. I found out then I have a knack for learning languages and found language learning thrilling. From there, I continued my studies of Spanish through to college graduation. While in college, I also picked up Brazilian Portuguese, exposed myself to French, and began studying Modern Standard Arabic, which is my assigned language in the Language Enabled Airman Program.

“I heard about LEAP as a cadet in AFROTC. I knew I wanted to use my language and cultural skills in the Air Force, and LEAP seemed like the perfect opportunity to jump-start that. I believed it would offer me a platform to maintain my language skills in addition to my efforts outside of work, and it has! 

“My overall experience as a LEAP Scholar has been very positive. I was accepted to LEAP before I commissioned, so LEAP has been a part of my Air Force identity longer than any other aspect of my career. Before I was a Logistics Readiness Officer, I was a LEAP Scholar. Now, as I transition to the Foreign Area Officer career field, I will still be a LEAP Scholar. Through the many duty titles and jobs I’ve held over the years, I have sustained my status in LEAP and improved my language proficiency. LEAP has been my only ‘constant’ since I have been in the Air Force, and I am grateful for it. 

“I am also very grateful for the accountability aspect of LEAP. Life gets busy, and sometimes it is difficult to find time outside of work to maintain language and culture skills. LEAP, through eMentor courses and Language Intensive Training Events, has helped me counter that struggle and has helped me in maintaining my language and cultural studies. My eMentor and LITE instructors pushed me outside my comfort zone and encouraged me to expand my Arabic vocabulary, grammar knowledge, and conversational skills in ways I can’t do on my own. 

“Becoming a FAO is something I set my sights on early on as a cadet in AFROTC. The FAO career path soon became my ‘Air Force dream job.’ I was aware I couldn’t commission into the Air Force directly as a FAO, and I would have to wait several years to apply after entering active duty, but fortunately, I didn’t have to wait at all to apply for LEAP. I was able to apply my senior year of college before I even commissioned! I knew being a LEAP Scholar would only make me a better candidate for FAO and build my language and cultural skills during the waiting period. I attribute a significant amount of the success of my FAO package to my LEAP experiences and training.  

“LEAP has given me glimpses of what to expect as a FAO in terms of exposure to another culture and language. It helped me decide if I truly wanted to pursue FAO as a full-time career. For example, much of the work through LEAP eMentor courses and LITEs involves conducting research, writing, and conversing over complex topics—all the while in a language that’s not my native language. In LEAP, this exposure comes in short chunks of time as I have availability in my schedule. As a FAO, on the other hand, this type of work will be part of my daily responsibilities. The levels of knowledge and comprehension I will need on both the language and cultural fronts will be much more intense. LEAP has helped me ask the questions: Is this how I want my day-to-day life to look? Is this something I can handle as my primary job? Ultimately, through my LEAP training experiences, I determined that FAO was right for me.

“If you are interested in applying for LEAP, don’t worry about your DLPT test scores . . . just apply! When I applied to LEAP, my Modern Standard Arabic scores were 0+/1 in listening and reading, respectively. For anyone who doesn’t know what that means, I nearly had the lowest scores possible. Nonetheless, I was accepted to the program to study Modern Standard Arabic as my core language, and my DLPT scores now sit at 3/3 for listening and reading. LEAP exists to make you better. The only person keeping you from applying to LEAP is yourself. Apply!”

-Modern Standard Arabic LEAP Scholar and FAO Capt. Kalynn Mendez

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