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Airman enhances partnerships, foreign language skills

  • Published
  • By Seth Maggard
  • Air Force Culture and Language Center
MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- As an Air Force Academy graduate early in her career, 1st Lt. Ariel Saltin looks for every opportunity to use her skills to enhance her surroundings. 

Saltin, assigned to the 628th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, actively seeks additional opportunities to use her French language capability. She recently took her skills to new distances via a unique language training prospect with the U.S. Marine Corps in Cameroon.


In 2014, Saltin gained a great deal of traction in putting her collegiate minor in French to good use when she was selected to the Language Enabled Airman Program.  

“I studied abroad and took every upper level [French] class available, so LEAP was a no-brainer for me to continue perfecting my skills,” she said.

As a new LEAP participant, she quickly jumped into language training through LEAP’s eMentor program, taking a 48-hour synchronous online course during her off-duty hours.  This helped her improve her French scores to a “3/3,” a very high score on the Defense Language Proficiency Test.

After this marked improvement, Saltin became eligible for one of LEAP’s advanced Language Intensive Training Events. 

Chris Chesser, the LEAP office’s LITE program manager, explained, “a LITE is a temporary duty assignment, averaging 30 days, placing Airmen in linguistically, regionally, and culturally complex settings.  LEAP participants most commonly attend a four-week language school, while some LITEs are more exercise or security cooperation focused, with or without a classroom component.”

For Saltin, her LITE came in the form of blended approach—classroom education followed by hands-on practice through facilitating U.S. Marine Corps training of the Cameroon military on countering Boko-Haram and offshore piracy.  

“I knew I would do in-country immersion training, but had no idea the program would give me the opportunity to support real-world missions. … It was a really great surprise,” she said.

She spent the first two weeks of her LITE taking intensive French classes at the Multi-Lingual Solutions Headquarters in Rockville, Maryland.

“It was honestly the best preparation I could’ve asked for,” she said. “My confidence was so high that I don’t think I would’ve done near as good of a job without [it].”

From there, it was off to the second leg of her LITE, the intelligence security cooperation event between the U.S. and Cameroonian Navy and Marine Corps. 

“We [the U.S. Sailors, Marines and Saltin] would spend a large portion of our evenings planning out the next day’s lessons, she said. “We would work on timing, adjust phrasing for clarity, and consider possible culture barriers.”

The classes provided to the Cameroonians spanned about eight hours a day, only stopping for lunch and a (local customary) mandatory coffee break. The rest of the time was spent speaking directly between U.S. instructors and Cameroonian students.

“There was a ton of lingo and dialect I did not understand, but picked up on very quickly,” she said “The operation was fast-paced, and there wasn’t much time to stumble over my own words, so there was a huge amount of value for my own language growth as well as assisting with the joint instruction sessions.”

Back at JB Charleston, Saltin has resumed her normal duties as a logistics officer, but with a new wealth of knowledge, as well as proving herself to be an asset to Air Force interoperability.

“I can’t say enough about LEAP,” she said. “Where else can you get language training on your own time, travel to other countries, and get paid to operate in a joint capacity like this?”

Her sentiments mirror the goals the LEAP program aims at providing its more than 2,100 participants.

Saltin summed up her experiences saying, “Any time you can go to another country and meet new people, it gives you new perspective. Anytime you can travel to that country with LEAP training, you know you are going to be able to apply that perspective [throughout your] career.”