LEAP participant helps SOG overcome language, culture barrier in Thailand

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer
  • 353rd Special Operations Group Public Affairs
The 353rd Special Operations Group has participated in more than 60 training exercises for over 20 years in Thailand. Although the strong friendships formed over the years have enhanced interoperability between the two countries, a language barrier still remains. This year, one Airman helped the group overcome that challenge by bridging the language and culture gap.

Tech. Sgt. Edward Deadio, 31st Munitions Squadron, traveled from Aviano Air Base, Italy, to Thailand in February for Cobra Gold as a Language Enabled Airman Program participant. During the exercise, he was a language and culture facilitator for the 353rd Special Operations Group.

“TSgt Deadio really helped foster a good relationship with the Thais,” said Maj. Blake Pierce, Cobra Gold 15-1 mission commander. “From setting things up with the hotel to facilitating maintenance equipment requests, he was able to communicate exactly what we needed because he understands both cultures and the military.”

LEAP is an Air Force program ran by the Air Force Language Culture Center and is used to build language, regional expertise and cultural capacity.

“Leap partners with Air Force mission planners in each region of the world to provide advanced speakers who can provide language support,” said Mr. Chris Chesser, Language Intensive Training Event Program Manager at the Air Force Language Culture Center. “Each year, while on 4-6 week TDYs, dozens of LEAP participants grow their language skills working at U.S. Embassies and supporting joint and coalition exercises – a win-win for the Air Force and our sister services.”

Although Thai is Deadio’s first language, he also learned English at a young age. He lived in Thailand until sixth grade, when he moved to live with his parents in the United States. To this day, Deadio continues to visit Thailand regularly, so he remains close to both American and Thai culture.

While at his first duty station in 2006, Deadio took the defense language proficiency test and qualified for language proficiency pay. Unfortunately, his language and culture skills were not used until he became a part of LEAP.

In 2011, LEAP, a program previously only open to officers, began accepting applications from enlisted members as well. Deadio knew the program would open more doors for him to put his language skills to use, and for the Air Force to see the value that language and culture skills bring to the mission. According to Deadio, it’s more than just translating verbally.

“Our body language can come across as offensive,” said Deadio. “The U.S. is more aggressive with communicating unlike the Thais who are the opposite. Because of that, the U.S. sometimes can’t get their message through fast enough. It saves a lot of time having someone who speaks the language.”

During the exercise, both maintenance and operations personnel saw firsthand how Deadio’s ability to effectively communicate directly reflected in the SOG’s ability to generate and execute sorties.

“Every time we needed fuel, a piece of equipment, [Deadio] was able to call the Thais and get us what we needed,” said Tech. Sgt. Joshua Coe, 353rd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron. “Some of the guys speak English but it was still hard to communicate. Deadio made sure we got the right part the first time. It saved a lot of time.”

LEAP has over 1,800 participants who are proficient in over 80 languages. Since 2010, LEAP has sent more than 950 Airmen on Language Intensive Training Events to over 50 locations worldwide. During these training events, the Airmen are able to enhance and sustain their language capabilities while supporting military-to-military engagements and other partner-building activities. LEAP also covers the cost of sending the LEAP participant to the exercise.

“I would definitely recommend this program and use again as a mission commander in any country where English isn’t a predominate language,” said Pierce. “The Thais were much more open to communicating with Deadio because he knew the language and understood the culture. Everyone we dealt with had him on speed dial.”

“Not a lot of commanders know about the program, or if they do they aren’t utilizing it enough,” Deadio said. “The program helps build relationships because the host nation doesn’t have to struggle to communicate. There is no reason not to use LEAP.”

For more information about LEAP, go to http://culture.af.mil.