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

LEAP Spotlight: Master Sgt. Oscar Pena

  • Published
  • By Oscar Pena, Spanish LEAP Scholar
  • AFCLC

The Language Enabled Airman Program is an incredible program that was key to my staying in the Air Force. It has allowed me to experience things outside of my career field, work with partner nations, participate in their culture experience, and feel an extremely satisfying sense of fulfillment. Serving in the security cooperation realm and expanding partner nations’ connections has been more gratifying than I ever imagined. 

I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 2007 as an Aerospace Physiology Technician. I have been stationed in Laughlin AFB, Texas, as an Altitude Chamber technician/instructor; Little Rock AFB, Arkansas, providing High Altitude Airdrop Mission Support to all Department of Defense; Fairchild AFB, Washington, providing physiological support for the wing; Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, as a flight chief; and now at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, as a MAJCOM Functional Manager. I have a degree from the Community College of the Air Force in Aerospace Physiology Technology and a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership. 

My language journey began as a native Spanish speaker born in Guadalajara, Mexico. My family migrated to the United States when I was 7 years old, and that’s when I began to learn English. From then on, my home was mostly Spanish-speaking, with English between my sister and me. As I grew up, I started to lose a lot of the vocabulary because I wasn’t using it continuously. 

In 2013, I worked in Operations, flying with different units from all branches. One day, I got to work with an Army group focused on SOUTHCOM. One of the members mentioned that the Air Force had a program where I could use my language skills. I researched and applied that year to the Language Enabled Airman Program (LEAP). It wasn’t until November 2017 that I was selected and started my LEAP journey.

LEAP has been an amazing experience. My first eMentor gave me a great view of how much I had lost my ability to speak my native tongue and helped me re-engage. My first Language Intensive Training Event (LITE) was a remarkable trip to Madrid, Spain. I lived in the Spanish culture and really got into the language. The LITE heightened my confidence in my language abilities and enhanced my cross-cultural communication capabilities. After more eMentor sessions, I attended a LITE in Santiago, Chile, where we focused on the Chinese influence in Chile and Latin America. Thanks to these experiences, I was able to, in turn, serve in several events where I used both my language and cultural training.

LEAP has given me the capability to work on far-reaching projects. I have translated documents for partner nation military talks and had the opportunity to take part in two Senior Enlisted Leader International Summits (SELIS), where I provided direct support to AFNORTH and AFSOUTH for our Latin American partner nations. I supported live interpretations, translation of presentations and documents, and face-to-face engagements with all our partner nations’ senior enlisted leaders. 

I encourage every Airman and Guardian to investigate the opportunities AFCLC has to offer. If you can speak or learn another language other than English, apply for LEAP! One of the biggest misconceptions I hear is, “I will fail the tests.” There is no failing a test - only seeing where you are in your abilities. Only good comes from having your DLPT score on file. Don’t hesitate, take the test, and if you don’t like where you score, brush up and take it again. If you need help, find people at your installation - LEAP Scholars, LEAP Chapters, FAOs, Air Advisors - who can help guide you. The tools are out there; you just have to find them and put in the work. 

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