TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - A C-5M Super Galaxy pilot from Travis Air Force Base, California, presented his experiences March 29 to 30 at the Air University Language, Regional Expertise and Culture Symposium at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, but this time, he was not talking about flying.
Capt. Raymond Zhang, 22nd Airlift Squadron pilot, spoke to a crowd of hundreds about his experiences as a participant in the Air Force Culture and Language Center’s Language Enabled Airman Program. Zhang has been a member of LEAP since 2011 as a Chinese-Mandarin speaker.
The goal of LEAP is to enhance the foreign language skills of Airmen from a variety of careers and backgrounds, developing them as cultural resources for the Air Force. As a participant, Zhang has taken language courses, gone on cultural immersion trips and worked as a language facilitator for various military and civilian leaders.
He was selected as one of six out of 2,411 LEAP participants to present these experiences at the symposium, which the AFCLC hosts each year.
“LEAP is doing phenomenal things with Airmen,” said Zhang. “They build and develop Airmen who will have strategic implications (for the Air Force).”
He presented first on his initial trip as a participant, where he worked on his professional Mandarin skills at a U.S. consulate in China for about a month.
“I got a chance to see their operations (and) what they do to integrate the Department of Defense,” he said.
This involved building relationships with organizations in the local area, preparing for crisis response, working as a language facilitator and assisting in the fingerprint process. The weekends were “training” of a different kind: experiencing the culture and people of China.
“You can choose to stay in your room on the weekends, or you can choose to go see the city,” said Zhang. “I traveled and explored every weekend.”
On his second trip to Beijing, China, in 2015, Zhang increased his Chinese vocabulary and knowledge through a graduate program taught by professors from Peking University, one of the top universities in China. There, he learned professional language and technical terms, he said.
The professors held conversations with the students on U.S. - China relations, international relations and current events, he said.
Zhang’s most recent overseas trip in 2016 built on his experiences as he worked as a language facilitator and cultural expert for approximately 20 members of the Air Force's Air War College. AWC is a professional military school focused on developing senior officers as strategic leaders in national security and international relations.
“There was a certain mentorship and professional development that (the trip) offered, because I got to interact with future colonels and generals in the Air Force,” said Zhang. “I got a glimpse of what international leaders do at a higher level and how they engage with one another.”
Since his time in LEAP, Zhang has also taken several of the program’s live, online language courses, called eMentor, where he practiced his Mandarin with professional language instructors and other students. As a result, he is now certified as part of LEAP’s “Enabled” bench and holds the LEAP Special Experience Identifier.
Zhang presented all three trips and his online training experiences in LEAP at Maxwell AFB. The conference hosted several LEAP participants this year from various languages as a way to gain insight from the program. Each Airman’s story proved LEAP has developed them to be culturally confident Airmen, said Zhang.
“I believe seeing those meetings (on my trips), discussing those topics and being able to interact with leaders is a strategic benefit for my development as an Airman,” he said.
The LREC Symposium also hosted speakers from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Air Command and Staff College, as well as key speaker retired General Roger A. Brady, former commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe.
Over the course of the two-day symposium, attendees discussed pressing international issues such as perspectives from international allies on U.S. involvements, cultural awareness and immersion as well as religion as a factor in maintaining international relations.
LEAP is currently accepting applications for active duty service members. For information on eligibility and requirements, visit http://culture.af.mil/leap/.