LEAP Scholars bring “home” to Central American and Caribbean senior leaders Published Aug. 14, 2023 By Mikala McCurry, AFCLC Outreach Team AFCLC MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Twelve Spanish Language Enabled Airman Program Scholars provided language support for the 12th Air Force’s (AFSOUTH) 2022 Central America and Caribbean Air Chiefs and Senior Enlisted Leaders Conference, which took place at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. This high-visibility conference is essential to USSOUTHCOM’s strategy for building partnerships within its AOR. This conference has been, and continues to be, the AFSOUTH Commander’s principal forum to engage Central American and Caribbean counterparts to discuss regional issues, collective capabilities, and to seek collaboration opportunities for achieving regional defense and security objectives. “This event supports both National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy guidance to partner with countries in the Western Hemisphere to build capability and promote security and stability, while maintaining the ability to respond to crises and strengthen regional capabilities for humanitarian assistance, climate resilience, and disaster response efforts,” said Maj. Christine Martinez, Foreign Area Officer and LEAP Scholar, AFSOUTH. Spanish LEAP Scholars engaged with partner nation air chiefs and their senior enlisted leaders in their native language for the duration of the conference. They also leaned in to help support the general execution of the conference to make the event a success. “LEAP Airmen have a unique set of linguistic and cultural expertise that is necessary to treat our partner nation dignitaries with the respect and care they deserve while attending this conference where they will participate in strategic-level discussions,” Martinez said. Not only did LEAP Scholars provide critical language support to bridge gaps in understanding for the Central American and Caribbean senior leaders, but they also gained valuable skills to bring back to their primary duty responsibilities as mission-enhancing assets. “The conference is a prime example of why LEAP is an important tool the Air Force has and employs. The ability to use language and culture to further national security objectives is a force multiplier. It allows U.S. Air Force members to apply their individual skill sets to leave a long-lasting impression on our regional partners. Opportunities like these set LEAP apart with its ability to impact events quickly and positively around the globe,” Spanish LEAP Scholar Master Sgt. David Vazquez said. Chief Master Sgt. Juan Alvarez also supported the event and currently serves as the Senior Enlisted Leader for the AFROTC Northeast Region, overseeing 37 detachments across 13 host states. Since many of the university leaders and cadets he interacts with are bilingual, this Language Intensive Training Event allowed him to enhance his Spanish language skills and see the importance of connecting with others in their prominent language. “They appreciate that a service member can speak the language and embrace their culture,” Alvarez said. “In such instances, the Spanish interaction/conversation has strengthened the relations, which ultimately helps AFROTC by ensuring the university provides the resources needed to execute the mission at the detachment level. This LITE afforded me the opportunity to interact with and interpret for our partner nations and see firsthand the importance of strengthening partnerships and interoperability.” According to Alvarez, the event also emphasized the role language-enabled Airmen play in strategic partnership building in the SOUTHCOM region. “The biggest takeaway from the conference is how each partner nation relies on each other to overcome challenges, defeat threats, and respond to crises,” he said. “No matter how big or small the country (Air Force) may be, the collaboration of each nation is critical to advancing regional security. A stable and secure Central America and Caribbean is vital to US national interest.” Overall, LEAP Scholars helped AFSOUTH accomplish its mission of strengthening partnerships with Central American and Caribbean partner nations by emphasizing their prominent language and culture as a priority for integration during the event, according to Maj. Martinez. “This event could not have been a success without the cultural and linguistic expertise provided by our LEAP partners, who made partner nation air chiefs and senior enlisted leaders feel at home throughout the week,” she said.