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LEAP Scholars help solidify and strengthen American partnership with Mexican Air Force

  • Published
  • By James Brown, AFCLC Outreach Team

When Mexico wanted to start a security forces career field in its air force, it looked at several countries to assist them. The presence of Language Enabled Airman Program (LEAP) Scholars, who have backgrounds in security forces, was a big factor in Mexico choosing to partner with the U.S. Air Force.

LEAP Scholars provided vital assistance during a visit from a Mexican secretary of defense delegation to Lackland Air Force Base, through real-time translations and cultural understanding. The visit led to a bilateral agreement between Mexico and the United States Air Force, strengthening partnership interoperability. The goal of this agreement is for Mexico to build a Security Forces Career Field in its Air Force.

Mexican Air Force (FAM)/ Secretary of Defense (SEDENA) personnel visited the Security Forces Academies at Lackland AFB in February to research courses specializing in air base security, including observing a Flight Line Security Exercise demonstration. They directly interacted with commanders and instructors who are experts in the defense of military perimeters and airfields, with the goal of developing knowledge in the defense and security of air bases.

Senior Master Sgt. Alejandro Velez, also a Spanish LEAP Scholar, is the Senior Theater Security Cooperation Coordinator for CONR-1AF (AFNORTH and AFSPACE) A5. He is leading the bilateral agreement under a five-year U.S.-Mexico Air Objective Plan capturing tactical training, systems, and equipment upgrades to improve and sustain mutual Homeland Defense capabilities and mission partnership effectiveness.

The LEAP Scholars who assisted Velez on the visit were Capt. Konrad Bennett, Tech Sgt. Edwin Nieves-Quiros, Tech Sgt. Jesus Rueda, and Staff Sgt. Edgar Bravo. According to Velez, the group’s ability to relate to their Mexican counterparts and their knowledge in Security Forces matters were essential to forging this partnership.

“The LEAP members not only brought their cultural and language expertise to create an influence with the partner nation, but additionally, their subject matter expertise in base defense was needed to establish credibility,” Velez said. “This credibility and influence were critical for Mexico to select us as their partner nation to help them develop their nonexistent capacity and career field, instead of going with our global competitors that are offering similar support.”

According to Velez, not relying on contract translators made communications with the Mexican delegation easier with military members talking to military members and helped build a level of trust.

“I'm not against translations, but the truth is, sometimes a lot of information can get lost in translation,” he said. “There is nothing like actually getting it right from the same person that’s talking to you. So, these members were able to communicate their own language in Spanish, and it was an amazing interaction.”

But it isn’t just the language abilities that make LEAP Scholars effective. Velez said their cultural skills are also a significant asset in building relationships with partner countries.

“The cultural background in these situations play a key part when it comes to influence, and when it comes to credibility,” Velez said. “The reason they come with us, and stay and strengthen their relationship with us, and not the other competitors, is because we are just like them.”

The LEAP Scholars used their cultural skills to understand the FAM’s requirements.

“It was an honor to assist our neighbors especially because I’m deeply connected to their culture being Mexican American,” said Bravo. “Listening to their experiences helped me understand their reasoning behind creating a Security Forces career field and made me a better defender.”

The result of this successful visit is a signed security cooperation agreement between NORTHCOM and SEDENA stating that the U.S. Air Force will support Mexico in creating an Air Base Defense Capability, with the objective of partner nation self-sustainment by 2029.

And Velez will be using his background as a LEAP Scholar to lead the partnership.

“I will be leading these efforts for the next two years and will be using the support of the Inter-American Air Forces Academy as a service provider to train the Mexican Air Force in Air Base Defense,” he said.Compiling all the feedback from all the students that will be graduating in the future, we will be able to adapt the course to their specific needs and strengthen our partnership.”

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