FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. --
As the Air Force reduces down its numbers, Airmen are looking for ways to do more with less. In 2009 the Language Enable Airman Program, LEAP, paved the way to a new generation of leaders.
Tahina, a captain with the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing Plans and Programs office, is a Massachusetts native whose passion for the Air Force started before college.
“I didn’t know too much about the military, at my high school they had a JROTC detachment and when I first considered joining I was looking for something to challenge me,” Tahina said. “I joined ROTC and I really grew passionate about it, learned about the Air Force and realized that it could be something I could do in the future.”
Early on, her community and peers said she was too “girly” or “feminine.” Tahina disregarded their comments and pursued the challenge of joining the military. During her junior year of high school, she was accepted and had the opportunity to join her ‘dream’ school Norwich University, Mass. From there she continued on to commission from the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps Detachment 867 in 2008.
Prior to completing her commission as a junior in college, Tahina was able to secure the only intelligence position available in 2008 to Air Force cadets.
As Tahina arrived at her first duty station in Tampa, Fl. she knew there had to be a way in tying her Columbian background and language capacity to help the Air Force. So she began to do some research.
“Always ask, it never hurts. When I started asking around, I ran into someone who was a Regional Affairs Strategist (RAS),” Tahina said. “The RAS advised me to look into the LEAP program, it was rather new and helped Airmen with language capabilities. So I applied in 2010.”
After being accepted in the fall of 2010, Tahina maintained her studies taking Spanish classes every year. Even though she is fluent in Spanish, she has to continuously kept up with the language and culture. Tahina has also begun Portuguese as her third language.
Tahina began her first Language Intensive Training Event, LITE, in Guatemala working with their Army rangers in the mountains. She said that being the only one of two females during the training, it was challenging and also rewarding. The first LITE lined up with her Air Force duty at the time, Combined Joint Interagency Task Force South counter-narcotics.
Tahina mentioned that she used her Spanish all the time. Mainly from a counter-narcotic mission watch floor in the U.S. With LEAP, it gives Airmen a Special Experience Identifier which labels them with a specific experience to complete certain missions. This led to her being selected and assisting Guatemala, training their military on how to conduct missions.
“I’ve been on two LITEs. They try to send you on those every two years for building on your language capability and to experience the culture first hand,” Tahina said. “On this particular experience, it was the pilot program for an immersion.”
Recently, Tahina visited Columbia, but this time it was not to visit family. She mentioned that it was a good experience to conduct her second LITE in familiar surroundings and culture. But it was also challenging for the first generation Columbian-American.
“After visiting so many times on vacation, this was the first time that I was there and I was completely immersed in the culture but I was also working toward to what I hope is improving the country,” Tahina said. “Being able to be there and experience the big changes happening in the country my parents are from, made me become more passionate and more involved.”
Tahina said that Air Force is always looking for language capable Airmen but also Airmen that have the capability to learn as well. Her time in the Air Force has been filled with specific training that not every Airmen gets to experience, but she says it’s doesn’t hurt to ask why? She believes every Airmen should find the chance to change the Air Force, even if it’s with something they were given.
“I try to promote it everywhere I go. Airmen become hesitant because their AFSC is not aligned or there no need for the language. But there is definite need,” Tahina said. “I think it’s great that the Air Force saw a need for a program like LEAP, and that they are using their Airmen who already have this skill towards accomplishing special missions. A perfect way tap into resources that the Air Force already has.
For more information about LEAP visit http://culture.af.mil/leap.