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LEAP Spotlight: Maj Daria C. Awusah

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  • By Maj. Daria C. Awusah, French LEAP Scholar

Serving as a Language Enabled Airman Program Scholar has been one of the main highlights of my professional career. Through participation in LEAP, I have truly enhanced my cross-cultural competency and improved my language skills in all modalities – reading, listening, speaking, and writing. In just two years, I have completed several 1-on-1 trainings through the eMentor and TUTOR platforms employed by the Air Force Culture and Language Center. 

Also, I was blessed with the opportunity to return to Senegal, nearly 13 years after my internship experience, to participate in a three-week Language Intensive Training Event (LITE). These education and immersion programs undoubtedly continue to equip me with the ability to understand and effectively communicate with native French speakers and their local and government officials, including our military coalition partners.

LEAP has been a value-added part of my personal and professional life. Through the improved language speaking and listening skills I have acquired and enhanced through participation in LEAP, I have been able to serve as a better ambassador to several international military officers and their families living and working in the United States. Participation in LEAP and the language, regional expertise, and culture skills I developed also proved instrumental during a recent weeklong training event with military personnel in Senegal.  

I am an Air Force Judge Advocate currently serving as the Chief of Military Justice for Space Operations Command, the largest Field Command of the United States Space Force. I was born and raised in Nigeria and lived in Germany for six years before moving to the United States over 20 years ago. I commissioned into the United States Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps in March 2013 as a Direct Appointee through Officer Training School.

Over the last 11 years, I have served as a military prosecutor, defense attorney, and a military justice and leadership instructor. Most recently, I completed a Strategic Policy Fellowship with The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, a component of the Executive Office of the President.

My language journey began at birth. Growing up in Nigeria, I spoke my native language, Igbo. While attending college at the University of Houston, I decided to learn French and took four semesters of French classes. While attending law school at the University of Maryland School of Law, I was fortunate to intern with the U.S. Department of State’s United States Embassy in Dakar, Senegal. I spent 10 weeks fully immersed in the French language and Senegalese culture. However, for 10 years, I did not utilize or speak the language until my acceptance into LEAP in 2021.

I cannot say for certain how I first heard about LEAP, but I do recall spontaneously walking into the AFCLC office while working at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. I was looking for another office in the same building and needed directions. However, upon walking into the AFCLC office, I recall seeing the word “LEAP” written on a large whiteboard. I asked the gentleman I was asking for directions from – Mr. Christopher Chesser, AFCLC Language Division Chief – to tell me more about the program. That 30 minutes of conversation ignited my interest in being a LEAP Scholar. I returned to my office and devised a plan which included taking the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT), setting a reminder to apply for the program, speaking with other LEAP Scholars in my career field, and talking to my boss, Brigadier General Christopher Brown, about my interest in the program. To my surprise, he was an advocate for the program, having previously endorsed his former subordinate’s application, and he fully supported my application. I learned of my acceptance into the program a mere couple of days before my birthday in October 2021, and the rest is history.

In December of 2023, I was selected by the Defense Institute of International Studies (DIILS) to return to Senegal for an unexpected, phenomenal opportunity to serve as an adjunct faculty. The language training and the regional and culture training I developed through LEAP’s various programs enabled me to execute the mission of teaching human rights and international humanitarian law to Senegalese military personnel and intelligence community, while also strengthening our military’s partnership within the French-speaking country.

The most surprising place I found myself using my language skills was on a charted coach bus, conversing with high school students whom their respective states selected to serve as student delegates with the United States Senate Youth Program while I was serving as one of the program’s Military Mentors. I was happy to help them prepare for their upcoming high school French assignments and exams while we all struggled to converse in another language throughout the week. Additionally, after a long day of work, I find self-fulfillment in returning home to spend two days learning French and seeing the improvement in my language abilities across all modalities and the resulting self-confidence.

As a passionate advocate for LEAP, I, along with a seasoned Russian LEAP Scholar, spearheaded the creation and management of the Colorado LEAP Chapter, comprised of nearly 200 servicemembers stationed at Peterson Space Force Base, Schriever Space Force Base, Cheyenne Mountain Space Force Station, Ft. Carson (Army installation), and the U.S. Air Force Academy. 

To any military professional interested in LEAP, I strongly encourage you to (1) do your research and learn about the program, (2) speak to other LEAP Scholars – I am confident that hearing about their experiences within the program and the opportunities that they have been afforded will inspire and motivate you to apply, (3) speak to your supervisor about your interest and elicit their support, and (4) APPLY! I promise you that you will not regret the decision!

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