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Language-enabled Airmen help facilitate trilateral agreement with Peru, Air Forces Southern, West Virginia National Guard

  • Published
  • By By Mikala McCurry, AFCLC Outreach Team

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Members of the Language Enabled Airman Program helped facilitate a groundbreaking initiative during the 2023 Peru Air Staff Talks by bridging communication gaps and minimizing language barriers.

Three days of collaboration during the event resulted in a trilateral cooperation agreement between the 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern), the West Virginia National Guard, and the Peruvian Air Force on June 9, 2023.

“Language and culture capabilities are crucial in establishing relationships,” said Capt. Joseph Reppert, State Partnership Program Coordinator for Peru, West Virginia National Guard. “When we have personnel who can relate to a partner nation through culture, history, and language, then the floodgates open, walls are brought down, and we can truly begin working with our partners to strengthen partnerships.”   

The purpose of the 2023 Peru Air Staff Talks was to identify bilateral objectives between U.S. Air Forces Southern Command, the Peruvian Air Force, the West Virginia Air National Guard, and other Air/Space equities, according to Reppert. 

“During the Air Staff Talks, units discussed past, current, and future engagements to develop a three-to-five-year plan on how to plan, fund, and execute mutual objectives, activities, and investments,” he explained.

Nearly 40 representatives from the three entities worked together to plan close to 60 future cooperation engagements, including air operations and maintenance, humanitarian aid and disaster relief, non-commissioned officer development, women in peacekeeping and security initiatives, and space and communications operations. LEAP Scholars were a critical link to ensure effective communication for successful planning of these engagements.

“When we bring Peruvians to the U.S., we often require additional language interpretation and translation capability,” Reppert said. “LEAP Scholars bring multiple capabilities to each event; they are usually seasoned Airmen themselves with a background in topics which we cover in the Staff Talks, such as maintenance, airlift, or other areas.” 

While the West Virginia National Guard and Peru have been partnered through the State Partnership Program since 1996, the addition of Air Forces Southern is aimed to further enhance the partnership and increase strategic engagements among the three entities. As multi-capable Airmen, LEAP Scholars can help bridge the language and cultural barriers between the three organizations while providing subject matter expertise to enhance partnership building. 

“It’s a win-win package with LEAP Scholars. We have subject matter experts and language capability at a minimal cost, which directly creates an atmosphere necessary for a successful engagement,” Reppert said. “I am a strong advocate for the LEAP program. I’ve had nothing but great experiences with the LEAP Scholars, and we will 100% be requesting their support again in the future.”

Spanish LEAP Scholar Master Sgt. Ray Ayala Velez, Military Personnel Flight Chief, 316th Force Support Squadron, served as part of the team, helping to ensure messages were communicated accurately and efficiently throughout the event.

“This Language Intensive Training Event helped support SOUTHCOM Commander Gen. [Laura] Richardson’s top priority of strengthening partnerships with foreign allies,” Velez said. “We were able to get their actual intent and pass it over to the sponsoring organizations, thus streamlining the process.”

The experience also allowed Velez and his team to gain more insight into other organizations that support Spanish-speaking countries and the importance of those partnerships.

“It helped me understand how important it is to build this international partner relationship not just for aiding in humanitarian and disaster relief but against adversaries like China and Russia as well,” he explained.