Capt. Huy Tran, an officer stationed at Grand Forks AFB, N.D., interviews a witness in Vietnam during a search and recovery mission in the summer of 2012. In cooperation with the Joint Prisoners of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command, (JPAC), and the Language Enabled Airman Program (LEAP), Tran played a vital role as a Vietnamese linguist on a recovery mission to bring home service members missing from the Vietnam War Era. (Courtesy photo)
For the first time since the inception of the Air Force's Language Enabled Airman Program four years ago, enlisted airmen from all Air Force career fields will get a crack at applying to the program.
An enlisted board for LEAP will convene in mid-May at the Air Force Culture and Language Center at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. The board will select about 200 enlisted airmen who are proficient in a foreign language that is considered strategic to the Air Force and the Defense Department. Airmen must apply by April 15.
Opportunities in LEAP were previously limited to officers and cadets. In 2012, the Air Force opened the program to 73 enlisted airmen, primarily in highly deployable career fields such as the medical fields. This year will be the first time LEAP is open to enlisted airmen in all career fields, and the first time a board will be held exclusively for enlisted airmen, said Rebecca McKenzie, foreign language requirements manager for the center. A separate board for officers and cadets will be held in the fall.
There are currently 1,100 airmen enrolled in LEAP.
McKenzie said the Air Force is looking to expand the program because the service wants to boost its cadre of foreign language-capable airmen to meet current and future foreign language requirements.
One of the goals of the program is to help airmen attain a level of proficiency that allows them to communicate and perform their jobs in their specialty foreign language.
"We want to provide a bench of people with language capabilities so that when the Air Force needs them, they're ready to go," McKenzie said in a telephone interview.
"We want their proficiency to be high enough to do the job when needed and for the members to have the cultural know-how to navigate the country they're operating in. It's not just about gaining the language, but they have to understand the culture."
LEAP allows airmen who are proficient in a language other than English to receive training designed to help them to improve and sustain their language skills throughout the course of their career.
Airmen are allowed to participate in immersion programs, which are four- to six-week opportunities for airmen to study abroad or participate in simulated experiences taken every three to four years.
Airmen also receive weekly online language training, and they have the opportunity to practice with a live e-mentor.
Being able to conduct the core duties of one's Air Force Specialty Code in another language is becoming more of a necessity for airmen who are working closer than ever with foreign partners to complete global missions, said Zachary Hickman, language division chief for the center.
The program is designed for airmen to attain and maintain a proficiency level of 2/2 or better on the Defense Language Proficiency Test. The maximum proficiency is 5/5.
To be eligible, airmen must have served at least 48 months, achieved the rank of senior airman or higher, completed all 5-Skill Level and Career Field and Education Training plan requirements and not be within two years of high-year tenure limits. Airmen also must have scored at least a 1+ in at least two areas — listening comprehension, reading or speaking — on the Defense Language Proficiency Test or Oral Proficiency Interview. They must not have derogatory information in their performance record.
Selected candidates and their commanders/supervisors will be notified individually approximately 30 days after the conclusion of the selection board.
Interested airmen must register with the Air University portal, which is also where the application for LEAP can be found. Though any airmen with proficiency in any foreign language can apply, the Air Force and Defense Department consider languages on the strategic language list high priority.
The list is for official use only and can be obtained from their strategic test control officer or the base education office. Airmen should check the frequently asked questions on the Air University Portal and can also contact the program directly, McKenzie said.