MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
Language-enabled service members at Air Force and joint bases worldwide connect at their local bases through LEAP Chapters. At Barksdale Air Force Base, Language Enabled Airman Program Scholars and other Airmen and community members connect to enhance language and cultural awareness and proficiency in the Barksdale community.
The overall goal of the Barksdale AFB LEAP Chapter is to raise awareness about LEAP, increase the number of applicants from the chapter into the program, and expand language and cultural awareness across the community through their guiding principles of “scholarship, fellowship, and opportunity.”
“We believe when an Airman joins the mission, they each bring something unique with them to the fight. However, for many Airmen, their foreign language skills go underutilized and underappreciated, leaving them feeling undervalued. We aim to change that,” said Barksdale AFB LEAP Chapter President Master Sgt. Corey Holt. “Language is how we communicate ourselves to the world, and our mission is to allow all Airmen to tell their story, to let them know they are not alone, and to grow themselves in the community.”
One of the ways the Barksdale AFB LEAP Chapter is accomplishing its mission is through the development of a new introductory Japanese language development course known as the Nihongo Academy.
The chapter’s Vice President Tech. Sgt Eric Johnson and Language Development Committee lead Senior Airman Juan Romero developed the idea for the academy as they discussed ways to meet the chapter’s guiding principles and provide new opportunities to chapter members. Since there was a large interest in Japanese language learning in the chapter and within the Barksdale community, the chapter decided on Japanese for the first iteration of their course.
“The turnout we had for our first class with Air Force and non-Air Force students showed us the desire people had for wanting to learn a new language and the mentorship we could provide for them to learn that language and utilize it to bridge the gap between two different cultures,” Romero said.
Tech Sgt. Johnson is a Japanese LEAP Scholar who spearheads teaching for the course to give back to the community while continuing to enhance his language skills.
“It’s a beautiful thing when LEAP Scholars can support our senior leadership and Air Force mission and also pay it forward and teach languages to other people,” Johnson said.
The Nihongo Academy is a three-month course where students meet once a week for language learning. Airmen and civilians can sign up for the course for free, and Johnson teaches the course from original, open-source Japanese material that he developed, along with support from a civilian native Japanese speaker.
“The ultimate goal of the course is for students to walk away with a rare, and often not found, cultural and linguistic understanding of Japan,” Johnson said. “We’re developing a language-enabled Airman skill in general force Airmen and planting a seed.”
The Barksdale AFB LEAP Chapter has provided basic Japanese language education to 30 members of the local community, total force and civilian included, through the Nihongo Academy with an extensive waitlist beyond that. They plan to offer advanced courses in Japanese and other languages with this course.