AFCLC, Air Force Culture and Language Center, Air Force's Global Classroom

LEAP Spotlight: Capt. Jessica Zenteno

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  • By Capt. Jessica Zenteno, Spanish LEAP Scholar

After earning my degree from Texas Woman's University in 2016, I launched my nursing career at UT Southwestern in Dallas. I commissioned into the Air Force in 2018 and began my service at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Following a three-year tenure there, I transitioned to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, where I now apply my skills in the Operating Room.

My language journey began at home, where Spanish was my first language. My parents placed great importance on me learning my native language, as none of my grandparents were English speakers. I started actively using my Spanish skills at the age of 7, serving as a translator for my grandparents during their doctor's appointments.

I first heard about the Language Enabled Airman Program during a speed mentoring session at Lackland Air Force Base. Despite not being selected on my first attempt, I remained persistent and was fortunate to be chosen on my second try. What intrigued me about LEAP was its potential to unlock global opportunities, providing me with a more profound understanding of our military mission.

My journey as a LEAP Scholar has been incredibly enriching, allowing me to connect with people from diverse backgrounds. I had the opportunity to attend a Language Intensive Training Event, or LITE, in Chile, where I stayed with a Hungarian family and attended an international school. While studying Spanish, I also gained insights into various cultures from around the world. This exciting experience has left me anticipating my next LITE. Additionally, I was honored to represent and teach fellow students about American and Mexican culture.

A memorable instance of using my LEAP training in action was at BAMC's Emergency Department when I swiftly gathered vital information from a severely injured Spanish-speaking patient to contribute to a positive outcome. I also had the privilege of participating in a humanitarian mission in Guatemala during my time at BAMC. This experience allowed me to utilize my Spanish language skills in various ways. In my role, I had the opportunity to provide patient care, collaborate on surgical requirements with colleagues from other Spanish-speaking countries, meet the Guatemalan President, and coordinate morale-boosting snack runs from local vendors. These experiences have enriched my understanding of different cultures and allowed me to make a positive impact on the lives of others.

My LEAP training has also been instrumental in my current mission at JBER, where I've had the opportunity to care for several Spanish-speaking patients. While some of them speak a bit of English, it's always more comforting for them to communicate in their native language, especially before surgery. 

As the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Recruitment Representative, I share my LEAP experiences with Airmen at the First Term Airmen Center and the First Term Officer Center. LEAP is a powerful retention and recruitment tool, enabling our Airmen to serve in diverse capacities and become multi-capable. The broader concept of understanding the value of linguistic capabilities has made me a more globally competent Airman, allowing me to establish deeper connections.

LEAP has significantly influenced both my personal life and my military career as an Airman and a nurse leader. It has introduced me to remarkable individuals I've learned from immensely, and in return, I've had the opportunity to educate them about American and Mexican cultures. This exchange of cultural knowledge is crucial in our roles as multi-capable Airmen, as it fosters global competence. LEAP continually motivates me to study diverse cultures and stay informed about Latin American politics. The rewarding experiences I've had through LEAP are a major reason I've chosen to continue my service in the Air Force. These once-in-a-lifetime opportunities are invaluable, and I look forward to participating in more Global Health Engagement opportunities in the future.

I would encourage Airmen interested in LEAP to immerse themselves in their communities and study the cultures and languages that pique their interest. If you're serving overseas, seize the opportunity to learn about the country you're in. Also, take the time to learn about your fellow Airmen and their cultures. This cultural exchange can be a rich source of learning and personal growth.

I would like to emphasize the significance of LEAP as it provides Airmen with the unique opportunity to participate in missions beyond their AFSC and allows them to impact the Air Force mission on an entirely different level. It's a truly transformative program that fosters global competence and cultural understanding.

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