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

LEAP Scholar’s training in Spain elevates her skills as an Air Force recruiter

  • Published
  • By James Brown, AFCLC Outreach Team
  • AFCLC

A Spanish Artillery Academy might seem like an unusual place to find a young Air Force Non-Commissioned Officer, but training opportunities that would normally seem unusual happen on a regular basis in the realm of language, regional expertise, and culture. Staff Sgt. Vanesa Wagner’s training in Spain was an example of the Department of the Air Force’s principle of following through on training transformation, and Wagner said the event was valuable to her in several different ways.

Wagner, a Spanish-speaking Language Enabled Airman Program (LEAP) Scholar, participated in a Language Intensive Training Event (LITE) at the Spanish Artillery Language Exchange in Sergovia, Spain, in early 2024. During this event, Wagner absorbed a great deal of Spanish language and culture, and she also taught English lessons to her Spanish counterparts.

“My experience at the Spanish Artillery Academy was eye-opening, enriching, and challenging in its own way,” she said. “I had to get up to speed with different military terms I was unfamiliar with, regarding the Spanish Army. Additionally, I connected to and gained a more in-depth understanding of the Spanish culture and military. For 30 days, I was completely immersed in the culture and language of the country. Most of our days consisted of attending classes with the officer cadets. Sometimes we would teach English lessons to the officers and forming NCOs. It was a cultural exchange where both nations learned from each other and bolstered their military partnership.  I look forward to going back and working with the Spanish Army in the future.”

“The main benefit of my experience was learning a significant amount of new vocabulary and the expansion of my network and relationships I formed with the other Spanish LEAP Scholars as well as members of the Spanish Artillery Academy,” Wagner said. “I now have a better understating of why it is so important to have a diverse military organization. It allows us to continue successfully partnering with other nations as well as nurturing relationships with allied nations.”

In 2022 Wagner succeeded in the competitive special duty selection process and became an Air Force recruiter. She said her LEAP background, and specifically her training in Spain, were instrumental in her effectiveness in recruiting.  

“I heavily rely on my language skills for my position as a recruiter,” Wagner said. “I recruit in the state of Arkansas where the Hispanic population is very high in some areas. I have assisted non-Spanish speaking recruiters with translations during initial appointments, and I have formed strong positive relationships with the Hispanic communities of the area. This has allowed me to inspire and motivate the new generation of diverse Airmen to join the Air Force. I’ve noticed many misconceptions about joining the military in general, so bridging the gap between non-English speaking parents regarding their kids considering the Air Force as an option has been a game changer in my recruiting zone. Having a language skill has not only allowed me to communicate with a wider population but has refined my empathetic skill to understand other cultures, contexts, and backgrounds. That skill is what has helped me to connect in a more genuine way with applicants and communities of the zones I recruit from.”

Wagner’s supervisor, Master Sgt. Joshua Stanley, agrees that her language skills are a tremendous asset to her work in recruiting.

“Staff Sgt. Wagner's bilingual skills are a vital asset in her role as Enlisted Accessions Recruiter, allowing her to fluidly communicate in both languages with precision and empathy,” he said. “She navigates complex conversations with ease, ensuring seamless understanding and connection with applicants of diverse linguistic backgrounds. Staff Sgt. Wagner's ability to switch between languages effortlessly enhances her effectiveness in facilitating events across our entire Squadron, fostering an inclusive and welcoming environment for all.”

No matter what direction her career in the Air Force takes, Wagner envisions language playing a significant role.

“I envision an Air Force where every Airman with a language skill contributes to not only break barriers and dispel stigmas, but also serves as a beacon of inspiration for those who may doubt the value of diversity and the importance of learning a second language in our military,” she said. “Moreover, I am committed to amplifying awareness about the significance of bilingualism through the continued promotion of the LEAP program.”

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