MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
Did you know, according to Ethnologue, an online living database of languages, there are 7,168 languages actively used in the world today, with about 42% considered “endangered” or “low density?”
Languages are categorized as “low density” either because few people speak these languages or resources are unavailable to formally train new speakers, even though millions may speak these languages. Because a language is deemed “low density” does not mean it has no priority, especially in the Air Force Culture and Language Center, the Language Enabled Airman Program, or the Department of Defense. In LEAP, some low-density languages with fewer than 20 speakers in the program include Romanian, Serbian Croatian, Krio, Mongolian, Amharic, Portuguese European, Indonesian, Dutch, Persian Afghan (Dari), Pashto Afghan, and Haitian Creole, among others.
The nature of their language, regional expertise, and culture training allows LEAP Scholars to better support the application of air and space power through strengthening partnerships, interoperability, and adversary understanding regardless of whether their target language is considered high or low density.
According to Capt. Alexander Nastas, a Russian and Romanian LEAP Scholar who works with AFCLC as the LEAP Operations Officer, training Airmen in low-density languages will continue to have high military value.
“Low-density languages enable military personnel to effectively communicate with locals and partner forces where English is not widely used or understood,” Nastas said. “This can be essential in gaining critical intelligence, relationship building within the communities, and successfully completing military tasks. In addition, these languages provide cultural and regional context, thus minimizing the risk of misunderstanding or unintentional offense. Overall, this type of training boosts effectiveness and success of military operations in diverse and complex environments.”
Capt. Eric Bentum, a Krio LEAP Scholar and Deputy Director of Education Support for the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB, recently participated in AFCLC’s Advanced Krio Integrated Deterrence Course in Freetown, Africa, which was an opportunity to use his language, regional education, and culture skills to strengthen coalition partnerships worldwide. He said there is great importance in training low-density languages as the U.S. continues working to be the “partner of choice” compared to China and Russia.
“The rapid rise of China and the aggressive expansion of its military and economic prowess challenges the United States’ position as the hegemonic world superpower and the very foundations of the global world order. These aggressive tactics by China are evident in their quest and exploration of Africa and other parts of the world as they seek to solidify their Belt and Road initiative. The U.S. military must focus on deliberate training of ‘low-density’ languages in the same way it invests in ‘high-density’ languages so we can better understand our allies and enemies alike to keep our strategic competitive edge,” Bentum said.
Mongolian LEAP Scholar Maj. Oyunchimeg Young has also utilized her LREC skills on many occasions, including translating for the Chief of the Mongolian Air Forces Enkhbayar Ochir, at the Pacific Air Chiefs Symposium in Hawaii in 2017 during his meeting with then-PACAF Commander Gen. CQ Brown, Jr.
Young agreed with Bentum that the partnerships built using language proficiencies with Airmen, particularly in small or developing countries where U.S. support is essential, play a vital role in foreign policy.
“There are not many speakers of these low-density languages, especially at high-engagement speaking or interpretation levels. Having a speaker of these languages could open doors for military and political engagements where the U.S. shows how it fosters the development of these language and cultural skills for furthering its partnership with these countries,” Young said.