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

LEAP Scholars enhance senior leader’s security studies course in Far East

  • Published
  • By James Brown AFCLC Outreach Team

As senior Air Force leaders gained first-hand knowledge of the Korean and Vietnam wars, Language Enabled Airman Program (LEAP) Scholars helped them navigate the challenges of studying in a foreign country. LEAP Scholars recently assisted with a Regional Security Studies (RSS) course that covered the Korean and Vietnam wars from inside both of those countries, and provided instruction at the actual battlefields where fighting took place. 

Lt. Col. Paul Kim and Maj. Quan Tonthat provided language and cultural support to the RSS course that took place in The Republic of Korea and Vietnam in February and March 2024. Seventeen students from the Air War College attended the course. They assisted with the obstacles of traveling in a foreign country, such as interacting with hotel staff, restaurant servers, bus drivers and more.

The RSS course annually prepares senior leaders to evaluate the political, military, economic, cultural, and security issues within a particular region. It also provides students with the opportunity to evaluate an area of the world where a unified combatant commander must implement the National Military Strategy in support of U.S. security policy, by experiencing it first-hand.

Tonthat said that the course this year followed a specifically planned timeline.

“In each country, the group traveled to significant battlefields according to the timeline of the war,” he said. “At each location, three students gave a brief overview from the perspectives of the Blue, Red, and Allied forces. For this specific RSS, the group studied the effects of air power in different phases of the two wars.”

According to Tonthat, the sites the group visited in the Republic of Korea included: Osan (Task Force Smith) & Gaemi Hill, where the United Nations forces tried to delay the invasion of North Korea, Chilgok Patriots and Hill 303, which were part of the Pusan Defensive Line, served as the last defensive line for the U.N. forces. The group also visited the sites of Inchon Landing, Gloster Hill, and the Demilitarized Zone, which represented the offensive phase of the U.N. forces and the end of the war.

In Vietnam, the class visited the Dien Bien Phu battlefield where the French military lost to the North Vietnamese military, marking the beginning of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. They also visited Hanoi (Operation Linebacker II), where the U.S. bombed for 12 days in the North Vietnamese capital, and Hoa Lo Prison (or the Hanoi Hilton), where the North Vietnamese held captured U.S. pilots. To conclude the trip, the class traveled to Hue City, which was the highlight of the Tet Offensive in 1968. This is when U.S. public opinion turned against the war, and Independence Hall in Ho Chi Minh City, which marked the end of the Vietnam War.

The LEAP Scholars helped the group overcome obstacles that come with conducting a course in foreign countries.

“My primary role was providing logistic support, such as coordinating with bus drivers, hotels, restaurants, especially during passage through each country's customs,” said Tonthat. “My secondary role was introducing/explaining the culture to the team. Providing a view from the local perspective to the discussion from different perspectives, as both the Korean LEAP member (Kim) and I were born and raised in Vietnam and Korea.”

“During our stay in Korea, we had a driver and no other support, said Kim. “Interpretation was helpful, and introduction to a bit of culture, history, and food was appreciated. Upon entry to Vietnam, Maj. Tonthat was able to expedite our processing by speaking to airport security who led us to a separate line for processing. During our stay in Vietnam, we had drivers and tour guides. Although the tour guides were useful, having Maj. Tonthat who acted as a liaison with the tour guides was very beneficial. Maj. Tonthat also provided the team with historical and cultural background to enrich our experience in the country.”

Dr. Stephen Renner, Chair, Department of Strategy, Air War College, who organized the trip emphasized the role of the LEAP Scholars was vital to the success of the course.

“Lt. Col. Kim and Maj. Tonthat were a tremendous help on our Korean and Vietnam Wars staff ride,” said Renner. “They were of immense practical assistance to me as the trip director, of course, and they also added a great deal of cultural insights and texture that we would have missed without them. I hope Paul and Quan are available to travel with our group next year!”

The LEAP Scholars who helped with this course gave their time and effort, but they gained knowledge and sharpened their skills in return.

“This was an opportunity to practice the language and immerse in the culture of different regions of the country,” said Tonthat. “It also provided insight into how the Air Force and national leaders thought and made decisions.”

“Although I speak and understand the Korean language fluently and use Korean daily, I continue to look for opportunities to use my skills in technical discussions, not only in the medical field as a public health officer, but also in diverse fields such as operational planning and finance,” Kim said. “Language Intensive Training Events and other short utilization events provide me with the valuable opportunities when I can research pre-event, practice during event, and mull over post-event to continuously improve my skills.”  

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