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LEAP Spotlight: Capt. Holly Tolley

  • Published
  • By Mikala McCurry, AFCLC Outreach Team

“As a Chinese Language major at Ole Miss, I spent a year living and interning in Tianjin, China, prior to commissioning. I was previously stationed at Robins AFB where I did two deployments to USINDOPACOM with the Northrop Grumman E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System. I am currently stationed at Aviano AB in Italy.

“My foreign language journey has been uniquely non-standard. I was originally an international relations major, and there was a requirement to study a foreign language, so I started studying Chinese. I had never studied Chinese before, but I had studied French all through high school. I’ll be honest, my grades in French were abysmal. I could never quite figure out how to wrap my head around the verb cogitation. When it came to picking another foreign language to study, I chose the language that was least like French; in this case - Chinese. 

“I learned about the Language Enabled Airman Program from one of my instructor’s brothers after I joined ROTC. He is part of LEAP and even helped me through the application process when I was a cadet. 

“My LEAP experience thus far has been fantastic! It’s been such an amazing opportunity to not only travel but to also meet amazing people across different AFSCs and different languages with multiple unique perspectives. I got to spend three weeks studying in Taiwan. Beyond that, I’ve also had multiple opportunities to continue to my studies online through the eMentor courses, which have allowed me to continue to not only foster but increase my linguistic skills through rigorous and challenging coursework. 

“In 2021, I attended the Air Force Culture and Language Center’s Belt and Road Initiative Advanced Special Emphasis Language Intensive Training Event. What was unique about that event was not only did we get to talk about the BRI in the context of China and its impact in shaping Chinese foreign policy, but since there was a diverse group of languages present, we got to discuss the BRI and its impact with individuals who have a specialization in other regions globally. This provided a unique perspective to look at the impacts from BRI both domestically in China as well as from the standpoint of nations directly affected by the program in Africa and South America. I also enjoyed hearing the other groups’ presentations on their perspectives on the BRI and its impact on national security. I think that the structure of the BRI event was such an innovative means of allowing us to think critically and articulate our options and solutions in our target language. 

“Currently in EUCOM, I would say there aren’t many opportunities for me to get to utilize my language skills. However, we have other Airmen here on the base and in my flight who are in LEAP, and I’ve helped a few of them through DLPT prep, how to apply for LITEs, and how to secure the language SEI. 

“LEAP has provided me with unique learning opportunities while helping me keep my Chinese skills up. This has really helped in my Air Force career overall by broadening my mindset to consider opportunities and perspectives that are multicultural and multidimensional. This allows me to be able to approach problems that are difficult and consider them from multiple perspectives. 

“Even if you aren’t sure you’ll get into LEAP or think your language skills could be stronger, this program has so many great opportunities for growth both professionally and linguistically. But you can’t take advantage of any of them if you don’t apply.”

-Chinese LEAP Scholar Capt. Holly Tolley

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