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LEAP Spotlight: Tech. Sgt. Christopher Wood

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  • By Tech. Sgt. Christopher Wood

I was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, and joined the Air Force after high school. I recently hit my 16th anniversary in the Air Force. I have two associate degrees from the Community College of the Air Force in military sciences and information systems technology. I am currently working on my bachelor’s degree at the American Military University.

My language journey is an interesting one. In the fall of 2020, I saw an assignment to be a Professional Military Education instructor for the German Noncommissioned Officer Academy. I’ve always been interested in German culture and wanted to go to Germany, so I volunteered for it and was selected. After being selected, I was notified that I’d be going to Washington, D.C., to learn German before I started teaching. This caught me by surprise because I thought I would be teaching English-speaking students in Germany. Instead, this position was teaching German students as part of the Military Personnel Exchange Program. 

My family and I moved to Washington, D.C., where I attended the Defense Language Institute and learned German for 36 weeks. After taking the OPI, DLPT, and talking to the leadership at the German NCO Academy, I found out that two of my family members were denied travel to Germany due to the Exceptional Family Member Program. Unfortunately, my assignment was canceled.

Since I was already a certified PME instructor and had learned German in preparation for this assignment, I was given the choice to select my top areas to be stationed for my next assignment as a PME instructor. San Antonio and Alabama were my top two choices. I was selected to become a PME instructor at the Robert D. Gaylor Non-Commissioned Officer Academy at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas.

While at DLI, I had a classmate who was learning German but was already part of the Language Enabled Airman Program for French. He told me about LEAP and said I needed to apply once I got to San Antonio. After digging deeper into LEAP, it was amazing to see a program that offers eMentor classes to help you practice your language skills, so even if you don't get to go anywhere, you can at least log on and speak to somebody in your target language. I also saw the opportunity to participate in a training event in a country where your target language is spoken as a huge benefit and a way to be a part of a special Air Force mission. I got support from my new leadership, applied for the program, and was selected.

I've been in LEAP for less than a year, but I already feel I've done so much. I participated in eMentor courses from February to April this year. I also recently returned from a three-week Language Intensive Training Event in Munich, Germany. 

I didn’t realize how many other LEAP Scholars were in the area. I asked in the LEAP Facebook group if there was a local LEAP Chapter at JBSA. Someone on the AFCLC team commented that there wasn’t and asked if I wanted to start one, so I did. 

The JBSA LEAP Chapter is now in the process of being recognized as an official private organization after we update our constitution and bylaws. I've met many people here on the base who I didn’t know were in LEAP or spoke another language, so it's provided a cool alternative avenue of networking with people.

In my current role, I'm an instructor with a class of 12 students. We have quite a few people who know a secondary language in our academy. One of them told me they had “a phrase of the week” in their native language of Korean, so I introduced my students to that concept with German. We also teach a portion of the Air Force Culture and Language Center’s content called “Operational Culture.” We discuss topics like Violent Extremist Organizations and awareness of religious practices to help students better connect. For example, international students come here and participate in a foreign exchange student program. I had a student from the Royal Jordanian Air Force who was here during Ramadan, so it was interesting to learn and hear him talk about his experiences. 

In my personal life, it's gotten to the point where I say random things in German, and my kids will start saying the things I say. Being in LEAP has also boosted my confidence, and I’ve noticed more people who speak German. The other day, I was at a clothing store and asked if I could get someone to measure me for my blues. The salesperson had an accent that sounded of German descent, so I decided to say something in German. They looked at me with big eyes and responded in German. The next thing you know, we talked the rest of the time in German. Experiences like that and being able to interact and connect with people have made it worth it.

If you want to apply for LEAP, don't wait until the window opens to start working on your application. If you're already talented in the language and haven't taken your OPI or DLPT, talk to your local education office and knock that out so you are ready to submit all your documentation when the window opens. Also, make sure your leadership is tracking your interest in it.

I feel like being in LEAP has opened my eyes to how much language and cultural awareness is being talked about by our senior leaders, like General Brown and Chief Bass. LEAP does much more than just enhance language. It helps you understand the intricate details of the language and culture. 

AFCLC emblem. Air Force Culture and Language Center. Air Force's Global Classroom.

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