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Airman uses LEAP experience to enhance AFSOUTH mission

Capt. Kawika Berggren (far right) and fellow Language Enabled Airman Program participants pause for a photo after receiving their certificates of completion for the Language Intensive Training Events program in Ecuador, Sept. 13, 2013. As part of his LEAP training, Berggren traveled to Ecuador to immerse himself in the Latin culture and bolster his language skills. (Courtesy Photo)

Capt. Kawika Berggren (far right) and fellow Language Enabled Airman Program participants pause for a photo after receiving their certificates of completion for the Language Intensive Training Events program in Ecuador, Sept. 13, 2013. As part of his LEAP training, Berggren traveled to Ecuador to immerse himself in the Latin culture and bolster his language skills. (Courtesy Photo)

DAVIS-MONTHAN AFB, Ariz. -- The U.S. Air Force is made up of a diversely talented group of people whose personal skill sets often enhance their careers; one Davis-Monthan Airman is using his language and culture skills to support a unique Air Forces Southern mission.

Capt. Kawika Berggren, a C-130 navigator by trade and a fluent Spanish speaker, who is currently serving as the executive officer for the System of Cooperation Among the American Air Forces, was accepted into the Language Enabled Airman Program in 2011.

"The Language Enabled Airman Program is meant to facilitate the development and sustainment of foreign language skills of those serving in the Air Force," said Mr. Zach Hickman, director of Language Maintenance and Enhancement at the Air Force Culture and Language Center at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. "The program is voluntary for Airmen and participants may be accepted for multiple languages. Once a candidate applies, that application is evaluated by the LEAP selection board, which typically meets twice per year."

After receiving an endorsement from his commander and being accepted into LEAP, Berggren traveled to Ecuador for LITE, a program designed to immerse participants in the culture associated with their respective language, as well as bolster their language skills.

"With acceptance into LEAP, which is a life-long program, we're supposed to attend a language intensive or language immersion event within the first 24 months," Berggren said.

In addition to LITE, LEAP participants also take part in eMentor training to further strengthen their language skills and increase their understanding of the cultural elements associated with their respective languages.

"Like any form of training, participation in LEAP enhances and develops the innate language skills and interests of individual Airmen to their fullest potential," Hickman said.

While all of the training and immersion has been personally rewarding, Berggren realized his LEAP experience has the potential to further the Air Force mission as well.

"The entire LEAP program is so that we have cultural SMEEs in different career fields," Berggren said. "I'm a navigator, who is considered a subject matter expert in Latin culture, not only because I speak the language, but because I have been down there learning the culture, going through the history, the mythology and the politics."

A combination of his LEAP training and communication with his commanders about his skill sets and career goals propelled Berggren to his current position with SICOFAA.

"SICOFAA originated in 1961," Berggren said. "The overarching mission [of SICOFAA] today is to promote and strengthen trust, friendship and mutual support among its members. Currently we have 20 member nations from Canada all the way down to Argentina. We also have five observing nations."

Having an understanding of Latin culture and being able to communicate fluently in Spanish, allows Berggren to facilitate SICOFFA exercises and events with these member and observing nations, which promote interoperation for humanitarian and disaster relief.

"This past [air chief's conference], we had a memorandum of understanding for bi-lateral humanitarian and disaster relief assistance," Berggren said. "For example, the earthquake in Haiti, if we had communications with them and if we would have had all of this already set up, we could have sent a message to all of our stations and let them know, 'They had a pretty bad earthquake, be on standby for assistance.' We're trying to guide towards cutting all of that red tape."

Ultimately, preparing Airmen who can effect change and strengthen partnerships through programs such as SICOFAA is what LEAP is all about.

"By identifying Airmen with proficiency, the Air Force gains a ready pool of language-capable individuals across a wide variety of career fields, affording a great deal of flexibility in fulfilling missions requiring language skill," Hickman said.

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