MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
The Air Force Culture and Language Center partnered with the Squadron Officer School at Air University to establish the first process to formally recognize pre-commissioning language events for cadets from the United States Air Force Academy and Air Force ROTC in an official system of record.
This innovative concept stems from a group project idea presented at the Squadron Officer School’s Class 22A Think Tank cohort, which took place from Nov. 8-Dec. 15, 2021.
“Think Tank is one of our competitive electives at SOS, where a select group of students tackle a major Air Force- or DoD-wide issue and ultimately present creative solutions to senior leaders,” said Lt. Col. John Yi, 33rd Student Squadron commander, SOS, and a Korean Language Enabled Airman Program scholar. “These students go above and beyond the SOS curriculum and are coached by instructors through design thinking principles, which they use to prototype their approaches.”
AFCLC partnered with SOS on this initiative to establish a process that will identify strategic cabilities in future Airmen.
“The overall goal of this initiative is to identify language training that future officers receive while they are in ROTC or at the Air Force Academy so we can further develop them in their language as they continue through their career,” AFCLC’s Language Division Deputy Chief Col. Chip Barton said. “As one of the Air Force organizations that leads language, regional expertise and culture education, AFCLC was the logical choice to assist SOS in identifying ways the Air Force could get after this challenge.”
A team of SOS students focused on identifying cultural and language talent during this cohort to build strategic partnerships. Their overall goal for the project was to provide a solution to better inform selection for special programs and language-designated assignments by enhancing identification of existing talent.
“The team’s challenge was to come up with a solution on how to better develop and document language capabilities within Airmen, Barton said. “If they want to be in LEAP or become foreign area officers, decision-makers can see they already have some language proficiency and experience even before entering into active duty.”
Capt. Karen Degraphenreid, an aquisitions program manager at Headquarters Air Force, participated on the team that presented this idea during the 22A Think Tank.
“We were given a challenge to figure out how to better leverage existing language and culture skills among the force. We figured that a lot of information senior leaders want about existing language and culture skills within the force was already out there, but there wasn’t a central place to track it,” she explained.
Several members of her group participated in study abroad or language programs as cadets in AFROTC or USAFA, but their events weren’t documented in a central tracking system once they commissioned to active duty. The team decided to develop a solution to utilize the Air Force systems already in place to create a process for tracking these types of events.
“Ultimately, our goal is to make decisions for commanders and leadership easier by informing them of personnel skillsets and enable targeted hiring for these special assignments that can forge these strategic partnerships,” Degraphenreid said.
To implement this initiative, AFCLC and SOS collaborated with the Defense Language and National Security Education Office, USAFA, AFROTC and the Air Force Personnel Center to identify pre-commissioning courses, create course codes in the Military Personnel Data System and develop an annual process for uploading data on cadets who complete these courses to their system of record.
“This specific initiative, just like many of our SOS Think Tank ideas, was important for us to pursue since it serves as a reminder that the benefits of professional military education are not just theoretical but can be tangible and impactful in application,” said Yi. “It also shows the power of collaboration when you can connect a diverse group of captains and civilians and provide them with a safe space to ideate, test and pitch their innovations.”
While this program had no direct financial cost to implement, it will have substantial operational impact on the Air Force’s ability to identify language and cultural capabilities for newly commissioned officers for immediate utilization.
“This process will reinforce to incoming cadets that we realize the value of language, regional expertise and culture training. It’s a competency that the Air Force is keenly interested in further developing. Enacting this initiative starts the continuous thread of LREC that will run throughout their careers,” Barton said.