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

LEAP Spotlight: Capt. William “Billy” Vician

  • Published
  • By Capt. William “Billy” Vician, Turkish LEAP Scholar

I started learning Turkish in 2015 during an exchange semester at Koç University in Istanbul.  I stayed in Türkiye that summer for a two-month program – Project Global Officer - living with a Turkish family and taking language classes every day. I did a similar program in Azerbaijan the State Department hosted in the summer of 2017.

My ROTC cadre was in the Language Enabled Airman Program, which encouraged me to apply as a cadet. With six months of language learning in-country, I had learned enough to have the test scores needed in a critical but not very prevalent language.

My Language Intensive Training Event to Azerbaijan in the summer of 2018 was almost a magical experience because it was the first time I had one-on-one language training. Four hours every day with a Turkish professor who spoke no English was the perfect way to take me from being a person who had taken Turkish classes to consider myself on the scale of fluency.  

The eMentor classes have been a great way of maintaining my Turkish skills in the dead of North Dakota winter and when other events at work and home might take away my ability to focus on learning this language.

I used my LEAP experiences and language abilities daily during my 16-month tour at Incirlik AB, Türkiye.  I was the 39th Civil Engineer Squadron’s deputy commander from December 2021 to March 2023. During that time, we dealt with a plan to close the runway for significant repairs, international treaty-compliance inspections, and the worst natural disaster in Türkiye’s history. I worked with the Turkish Air Force’s civil engineer squadron to create solutions that helped both American and Turkish missions at the base like re-working the runway closure plan and planting 1,000 trees for erosion mitigation. We had translators available and always used them, but I could tell that speaking Turkish helped the Turks working for the U.S. government trust me more and enjoy working with me to solve problems with the Turkish side of the base.

During the February 2023 earthquake relief efforts, I worked with Turkish civil engineers to power and locate buildings at the main aerial port for the devastated region of south-central Türkiye. These efforts were a testament to our teamwork and cooperation amid tragedy. I am happy that the relationships I built over the preceding year helped the base and the nation of Türkiye. I could not have built these relationships without my LEAP training.

My final large effort for earthquake relief was as part of the team that built a field hospital in Hatay, Türkiye, and handed it over to the Turkish Ministry of Health. Throughout the four-day effort, I talked with the Turkish forklift drivers and hospital staff who had just witnessed unspeakable tragedies. I also translated between our electricians and the Turkish maintenance staff, ensuring they knew how to run the generators we gave them to power the entire field hospital. The United States giving them a multi-million-dollar field hospital was one thing; having Americans show up and speak Turkish lent the occasion a much-needed personal touch.  

LEAP has given me the confidence to be more outgoing and aspiring. I volunteered for the squadron deputy position at Incirlik even though I was two years too junior for it because I believed my language training and cultural understanding would be a huge help. Using a different language has expanded my ideas and how I understand diversity in the Air Force and with people in my community.

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