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LEAP Spotlight: Capt. Jack Matson

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  • By AFCLC Outreach Team

“I am a pilot and currently fly the KC-135R/T out of March Air Reserve Base in southern California. I was accepted into the Language Enabled Airman Program after graduating from the Air Force Academy in 2018. I have deployed twice to Qatar and have spent the last two years traveling the world conducting aerial refueling and cargo/personnel transport in the KC-135R/T.   

“My language journey began informally as a youth garnering cursory knowledge of the Spanish language from family.  Although I did not grow up in a Spanish speaking household, I grew up with an aunt who was fluent and native to Puerto Rico. I began formally studying Spanish in the 6th grade and continued through the Air Force Academy where I minored in Spanish.  I spent a semester abroad at the Spanish Air Force Academy in Murcia, Spain, during my senior year and have continued to practice and work on Spanish through eMentors and Language Intensive Training Events in LEAP.

“I heard about LEAP while at the Air Force Academy. There were a few school instructors and commanders who were Foreign Area Officers and highly recommended the program. They said it was a great way to keep up with language currency, and there were opportunities to travel under the LEAP umbrella.  The opportunities to travel and maintain Spanish through a formal training program interested me greatly.

“As a LEAP Scholar, I have completed both an eMentor 44-hour course and a 60-hour LITE to Panama. I was unable to truly participate as a LEAP Scholar until I finished pilot training, and the program was very flexible with the day-to-day requirements of training pipelines.  As a pilot, the flexible eMentor schedule worked great for me. My flying schedule varied on a week-to-week basis, so working directly with my Spanish instructor made a world of a difference in getting the hours needed to complete the course. My instructor was an incredible professional and always willing to adjust class times if something came up last minute.

“As for the LITE, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the immersion. We went to Panama City, Panama, and attended language school Monday through Friday to refine the command of our language abilities.  We studied grammar, literature, and the cultural components that make up the Spanish language. We also studied and discussed the involvement of the United States throughout the construction of the Panama Canal. The staff at the language school was incredibly well versed on local politics and did their best to explain the varying opinions of the Panamanian people. 

“As visitors to the country, we did several walking, bike, and boat tours to see every corner of the city. We traveled to Bocas Del Toro, explored Panamanian island life, and immersed ourselves in the activities of the Caribbean coast.  We boated into the Panama Canal and visited various islands, interacting with nature and local wildlife.  We visited an indigenous village where they taught us the history of the indigenous cultures native to Panama, fed us local cuisine from the rivers, and taught us their ritualistic dances.  

“As a flyer, I use the lessons from LEAP daily. When on the road internationally, I am constantly reminded that I am representing not only the Air Force, but also the United States.  While in Panama, I came across several people--especially in the more remote parts of the country-- who had never met someone from the United States.  For some, this may be the only experience they have with someone in the armed forces or Americans in general. The lessons from LEAP, aside from the obvious language and cultural instruction, are invaluable as an Air Force Airman.  Whether it is studying for a language lesson through eMentor or preparing for an overseas LITE, the skills developed through LEAP make it a worthwhile program.

“LEAP has impacted my personal life by enriching my language abilities and overall intercultural awareness.  LEAP has given me a greater appreciation for Latin America and inspired several personal trips outside of the program.  LEAP has allowed me to formally study a language with the help of professional instructors who go out of their way to impart wisdom they have from experiences.

“I highly encourage any Airman even remotely interested in LEAP to seek more information and see if it fits their skills and Air Force career aspirations. The program really captures the whole Airman concept of creating well rounded service members.  The program opens many doors and career avenues for people who have an interest in expanding their language horizon and becoming internationally educated. 

“The program is also a great way to meet people outside of one’s traditional AFSC.  Through the program, I have met maintenance people, engineers, fellow pilots, and several others, both officer and enlisted.  LEAP is a melting pot of various career fields and offers great exposure to the varying departments within the Air Force.  The staff and scholar pool are vastly diverse and offer unlimited opportunities for people willing to go the extra mile in their military endeavors.”

-Spanish LEAP Scholar Capt. Jack Matson

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