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Travis pilot serves as translator for Air War College in China

  • Published
  • By Nick DeCicco
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
As Capt. Raymond Zhang, 22nd Airlift Squadron pilot, can attest, there's more to being a translator than speaking multiple languages.

Last month, Zhang completed his third trip to China with approximately 20 members of the United States Air Force's Air War College, which molds officers into senior leaders across multiple branches of the service for American forces as well as international partners.

Although Zhang is a fluent speaker of the Mandarin dialect of Chinese, he said that his role must be that of an American ambassador, too, with a knowledge base covering international relations, foreign policy, Chinese history and more.

"They do want you to have not just a language base, but also (an) understanding (of) the culture and the history a little bit beyond 'There's a Great Wall,' " Zhang said. "When people ask me a certain question about how they conduct business or 'why is their logic like this?' I can give them some background."

Zhang is a product of the Language Enabled Airman Program, which aims to "sustain, enhance and utilize the existing language skills and talents of Airmen," according to the program's website.

An Air Force Academy graduate, Zhang grew up speaking Mandarin. He said the recent trip was his third in support of the Air War College and, aside from translation, it was exposure to officers at a higher level of command on both sides of the world, including generals and colonels.

"(It was) overwhelming, initially, because now I'm hanging out with a bunch of O-6(s), O-5s and a general officer," he said. "I thought it was a great experience both for my personal development as an officer and for my language development, basically seeing some of the dialogues that go on in a more diplomatic sense."

The tour included stops in Beijing, Guilin, Zhengzhou and Shanghai. The trip included a visit to the U.S. Embassy, National Defense University, Office of International Military Cooperation, People's Republic of China People's Liberation Army Air Force Command College in Beijing as well as visits to the PLAAF Airborne Academy in Guilin, seeing the 43rd Airborne Division in Zhengzhou and visiting the Shanghai Academy of Social Science and Shanghai Institute of International Studies.

In addition to knowing about Chinese culture, politics and history, Zhang said its incumbent upon him to know about American culture and policy so he can reflect it to the Chinese.

Among the issues he said the Chinese hosts inquired about was the ongoing American presidential race.

"I think they follow it more closely than the average American," Zhang said. "That was very interesting that they were keeping very close (eyes) on it, on their phones."

Zhang said the Air Force recognizes multiple Chinese dialects, but he is only aware of Airmen who speak Mandarin and Cantonese.

For Zhang, who said he maintains his language skills via programs provided by LEAP, said the trips help him learn as an Airman and as a person.

"It's a great opportunity to do something outside of every day," Zhang said. "It's definitely very time consuming, but these travels are amazing."