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LEAP Spotlight: Maj. Mark Poppler

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  • By AFCLC Outreach Team

“I am an F-15E instructor pilot teaching at the formal training unit. This is my third assignment flying the F-15E. Prior to this assignment, I had two operational assignments and deployed twice for Operation Enduring Freedom. 

“I studied French for four years in high school, and then I was an exchange student at Lycee Raymond Naves in Toulouse, France. I regretted not taking my language study very seriously before my exchange because it made it difficult for the first three months. By the end of my exchange, however, I was fluent in French and passed the French baccalaureate. 

“At the United States Air Force Academy, I elected to study Russian in addition to becoming an engineer. I felt like I had a leg up studying a third language, and my experience learning French made learning a new language much easier. I took my core aeronautical engineering class in French at the Academy, which was the only French class I took at USAFA. This was a great deal because I didn’t struggle learning the content in French, and I had a lot of one-on-one instruction from the French Air Force exchange officer teaching the class. 

“I graduated from USAFA in 2010. I studied astronautical engineering and minored in Russian language. I was lucky enough to have three language immersions at the Academy. First, I spent one month in Kiev studying Russian. The following summer, I spent one month in France doing an aeronautical engineering research project at the French Air Force Academy. Finally, I spent my first-semester senior year in Russia at Voronezh State University studying Russian language. After the Academy, my first assignment was to pursue a master’s degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.

“I heard about the Language Enabled Airman Program before graduating from USAFA. I was interested so I could continue to use and study the languages I had learned. 

“LEAP has been a great program for me. It has allowed me to not only maintain my French but develop it beyond my previous abilities. As a French Scholar, I have had four Language Intensive Training Events and multiple eMentor classes. 

“LEAP has allowed me to travel to France and Africa and meet many people from very diverse backgrounds. These experiences have been extremely interesting and broadened my perspectives. Hopefully, the knowledge and experiences I’ve gained through LEAP will help me fulfill my dream assignment of participating in a flying exchange to another country! 

“My first assignment as a commissioned officer was a language training in Nice, France, for 30 days. My next Language Intensive Training Event was one week to New Jersey in support of an Africa Partnership Flight, which was a very rewarding experience working with delegations from 13 African countries. Next, I went to Cameroon to support Tactical Maritime Intelligence to Maritime Operation Center (TIS2MOC) academics, where I translated for a team of five U.S. Marines teaching a class of 40 Cameroonian military members. It was incredible to see their country, their military, and to help develop that partnership. Finally, I recently participated in the Belt and Road Initiative Advanced Special Emphasis LITE. 

“In my mind, the BRI LITE was extremely effective. It combined a seminar in English for all three language groups followed by separate discussions in our target languages. It was successful because we were given a common knowledge base and could discuss complex and nuanced topics in our target language. This is where most advanced linguists struggle because it is difficult to practice.   

“As a fighter pilot and a LEAP Scholar, LEAP has very much been a side hustle. I can execute my eMentor classes at night and on the weekends so they don’t interfere with my flying schedule. My hope is someday I can combine my fighter pilot background and my language skills to work with international partners.

“The skills I’ve learned through LEAP of integrating into various other cultures is the biggest thing I use in my everyday mission. It allows me to better understand the motivations, views, and customs of people I interact with to effectively communicate and work with people in general. 

“If you’re interested in LEAP, join! Show your interest by doing whatever you can to advance your language skills. My language learning tips are to read a book you have already read (Harry Potter) in that language and listen to a rap album in the target language again and again. Before you know it, you will have learned a lot in the language. Also, whenever you have an opportunity to speak the language, don’t speak English just because it’s easier!”

-French LEAP Scholar Maj. Mark Poppler

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