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NEWS | April 15, 2014

Through Airmen’s Eyes: Language enabled airman program ‘perfect’ for lieutenant with five languages

By Jodi Jordan Air Force Culture and Language Center Outreach team

For many Americans, being bilingual is an admirable feat. Proficiency in five languages, though, is a whole other level - a level that one contracting officer at Joint Base Charleston, S.C. has achieved through lifelong learning.

"Learning a language and maintaining it is like running. The 'secret' of improving your running performance is by running some more," said 2nd Lt. Abror Samatov. "The same goes with a foreign language - practice and persistence."

Samatov used both practice and persistence in acquiring Russian, Turkish, English, Azerbaijani and Ukrainian, and he sustains his language abilities through participation in the Language Enabled Airman Program. LEAP is a career-long language program that sustains, enhances and uses the existing language skills of Airmen. Many program participants, like Samatov, are native speakers, either born in other countries or from families who spoke languages other than English in their homes.

LEAP is designed to build a "bench" of cross-culturally competent foreign language speakers for the Air Force, said program administrators. "We don't take Airmen out of their 'day jobs,' said Zachary Hickman. "LEAP builds Airmen's ability to do their 'day jobs' in another language - a vitally important ability in today's global Air Force."

Samatov grew up in Uzbekistan. The country lies at the historical crossroads of many different nations and civilizations. There, Samatov interacted with many different cultures and ethnicities. He began learning Russian in secondary school and moved on to English and Turkish in high school.

In 2005, Samatov came to the U.S. His passion for languages, in particular Turkish, led him to look for Turkish-speaking communities in order to practice with native speakers. Along the way, he picked up two more languages.

"I learned Azerbaijani, which resembles Turkish," Samatov said. "I learned Ukrainian in the same way I did Azerbaijani - through Russian. Both Azerbaijani and Ukrainian are from the Slavonic lingo family, so it was easier for me to gain knowledge of the Ukrainian. Also, I have a few friends from Ukraine here in the U.S., who I try to practice with."

The lieutenant said that his language skills have been useful in his personal and professional life.

"I have met and made a lot of friends here and abroad. I was the President of the Asian Pacific American Heritage Committee at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., for two consecutive years," Samatov said. "The members of the APAHC came from diverse cultural and national backgrounds. Knowing most of their languages made me a better leader." He also recalled how his language skills got him out of a tight fix once.

"My luggage was lost at the Istanbul airport as I was traveling to Turkey in 2008," Samatov said. "Since I was pretty good in Turkish, I managed to resolve the matter. Seeing the faces of airport officials when I suddenly switched from English to almost fluent Turkish was priceless!"

Additionally, Samatov's language skill and cross-cultural competence help him be a better contracting officer. "My career field has a high deployment rate. My linguistic abilities are necessary and essential when dealing with foreign entities and individuals during contingency operations," Samatov said. "By constantly improving my language capabilities through LEAP, I'll be better equipped to establish solid relationships with our partners overseas."