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

Diversity is an Asset: Airman helps U.S. and Philippines relations ‘LEAP’ forward during Cope Thunder

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Darnell Cannady

The U.S.–Philippine Alliance, complemented by our various relationships and partnerships in the region, reinforces a regional structure that has been instrumental in maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific for decades.

Our diverse personnel are a force multiplier for this mission, enabling us to communicate more quickly with our Allies and bridge cultural gaps.

One example is U.S. Air Force Captain Timothy John D. Nolan, a native of the Philippines who loves his country of birth and the United States.

"I was born and raised here, so on a personal level, there's that warm and fuzzy feeling knowing that I'm giving back to both lands I consider home," said Nolan, a Citizen Airmen in the California Air National Guard.

Nolan pursued a way to help both of his counties by becoming a Tagalog interpreter after commissioning and learning about the Language Enabled Airman Program (LEAP). The objective of LEAP is to develop language-enabled, cross-cultural scholars who can operate seamlessly with partner nation military forces and civilians around the world. With these skills, service members can better support the application of air and space power through meeting the National Defense Strategy pillars of strengthening partnerships, interoperability, and adversary understanding.

It took two applications before he was selected as a Tagalog interpreter. Still, afterward, he volunteered as an interpreter for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) during exercise KAMANDAG 6 in the Philippines.

"The LEAP capability is a true force multiplier and is critical in pursuing strategic objectives in this area of responsibility," said Nolan. "We have daily interactions with our Philippine Air Force (PAF) counterparts, so my comfort with speaking the language and still being in tune with my culture makes all the coordination with the host nation seamless. "

Captain Nolan isn't just an interpreter and liaison; he is an MQ-9 Pilot who has volunteered his time to work outside his traditional scope of duties to have a greater impact on the mission. He currently leads the Live-Fly Cell as the deputy officer in charge during Cope Thunder and Balikatan 24 exercises.

"During Cope Thunder, I've had the opportunity to bridge those gaps by talking to the logistics guy and communicating with the driver, trying to tell them to make it a little bit easier for everybody," said Nolan. Everybody here speaks English, but there are certain situations where there's a language barrier, right, and it can inhibit cooperation and coordination because we're not understanding each other."

Recently, Nolan hosted a joint training class for twelve PAF military members. He gave an overview of the Live Fly Cell's mission and taught them entirely in Tagalog how to create a consolidated schedule to ensure maximum situational awareness of the airspace.

This added language capability increased camaraderie and ensured his Philippine Air Force counterparts were equipped to establish processes to support joint operations for future iterations of Cope Thunder and Balikatan.

"This lecture has increased my knowledge of scheduling and my Philippine colleague's knowledge," said PAF Sgt. Ronnel Calalo, training apprentice. "I'm looking forward to it and hope that this type of training continues for others who do not have experience with joint exercises. We know that continuing to conduct this type of bilateral training with the U.S. will greatly impact us all."

"Seeing this grow not only establishes our footprint as key to bridging gaps between language and culture, it also sets the standard for future iterations of events here in this area of responsibility," Nolan added.

In a landscape where communication hurdles have persistently hindered mission success, Nolan’s steadfast dedication resonates profoundly as he takes pride in his pivotal role in fortifying the alliance and bolstering regional defenses for both nations.

"The value I've gained is appreciation for seeing our relationship with the host nation flourish," Nolan added. “The improved collaboration and quality of training enabled by my capability is one of the most important aspects of my responsibility as a LEAP professional. Seeing this grow establishes our footprint as key to bridging gaps between language and culture and sets the standard for future iterations of events here in this area of responsibility."

By harnessing initiatives such as LEAP, the alliance demonstrates a commitment to leveraging diversity as a force multiplier, enabling swift communication, fostering camaraderie, and solidifying the bond between the two nations. This concerted effort not only enhances operational effectiveness, but also serves to safeguard Philippine territory and preserve their lives and livelihood.

The U.S.-Philippine Alliance stands as a cornerstone of regional peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, bolstered by the diverse array of personnel within its ranks. Through examples like Capt. Timothy Nolan, it becomes evident that diversity is not just a virtue but a strategic asset.

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