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

LEAP Spotlight: Capt. Cassaundra Preston

  • Published
  • By Capt. Cassaundra Preston, French LEAP Scholar

I graduated from the Air Force Academy Class of 2019 with a degree in Civil Engineering and a minor in French, then I went to 17D tech school at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. Afterwards, I was assigned to Beale AFB, California, as a Cyber Officer. Most recently, I PCS’ed to Hanscom AFB. 

I began taking after-school French classes at an early age under the guise of language interest but primarily for the “cuisine” aspect of cultural immersion. Unsurprisingly, I fell in love with discovering different cultures and languages. My parents nurtured my interest, hosted several French Foreign Exchange students, and sent me to France one summer.  

At the Air Force Academy, I was encouraged to apply to the Language Enabled Airman Program, or LEAP, during my final year by my favorite faculty member, Madame T. I was fascinated by a component of the military that embraced complex answers and prioritized a more difficult, longer, but altogether more efficient path to strategic success in terms of cultivating cultural understanding and language capabilities. It’s a mindset that’s exciting to see in our military, and I decided to support and contribute to that greater mission. 

I have been lucky enough to participate in two Language Intensive Training Events thus far - the LEAP Cyber LITE at Maxwell Air Force Base and a LITE University in Montana. Both were incredible experiences! At the Cyber LITE, I became inspired by other LEAP Scholars who argued passionately about their cultures of study using vast contextual information that can only be gleaned from being true lifelong scholars. That LITE encouraged me to include staying up to date on foreign affairs as part of my LEAP commitment. 

The LITE U in Montana was possibly even more magical! I bonded with other LEAP Scholars whom I admired, and together, we created the French “Quick Reaction Task Force!” That LITE also propelled me into a 3/3 and fully enabled LEAP Scholar. 

If I had any advice for those interested in LEAP, I’d first and foremost say, just apply! After that, keep applying! In other words, it’s easy to tie yourself in metaphorical knots thinking about why you might not be selected, but if you have a passion for language and culture, that will come through in your application. (As long as your PDF isn’t sideways!) 

As for my “keep applying” motto, it’s not enough to simply get accepted into the program. Make sure your LEAP profile is always 100% up to date, and communicate the strategic importance of language skills to your leadership early on. If you can do those two things, the AFCLC team will do their part to help you become fully enabled and send you out on missions. The opportunities are there, so say “yes” to every opportunity!

I always tell people LEAP is one of those singularly unique and powerful Air Force programs that is as much a delight to contribute to as it is important to learn from. For me, LEAP helps give me purpose in the Air Force. On days when my job can become routine, it’s a joy to think of my next LITE experience or the day I will be called upon to use French to bridge cultural gaps for an official mission. It’s my “why” for staying in the Air Force when my desk feels far from the fight. 

While I haven’t had the opportunity to use my LEAP training at Hanscom AFB yet, I was lucky to have an opportunity to convey the benefits of the Air Force to a young man with Togo origins in French on top of the Empire State Building while TDY in New York this summer! He later reached out to a recruiter to start his Air Force journey. You simply never know when your language skills will come in handy! Even when my mission doesn’t directly require the use of French, there is always a need for discussions about the importance of cultural understanding and a need to share knowledge about the LEAP mission.

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