Maxwell Air Force Base --
What began as a course set to take place at the Air Force Culture and Language Center (AFCLC) at Air University, the Pre-Assignment Acculturation Course (PAC), could quickly have fallen through the cracks as concerns continue to grow about the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Center’s faculty, visiting experts, and three general officers were scheduled to meet in person in AFCLC’s conference room for three days for the culture and language course. As the COVID-19 pandemic has pressed pause on many activities, AFCLC continues to push forward, business as usual.
“Despite the challenges of COVID-19, we still have a mission to do. A bedrock of the AFCLC culture is this simple ethos: refuse to lose, and find a way to win,” explained AFCLC Director Howard Ward. “The best student experience in PAC comes from in-person attendance before our senior leaders deploy to key assignments, but that is not possible at this time of social distancing. The virtual concept our team has developed is entirely consistent with our creed as Airmen: “I will never falter, and I will not fail.”
For the health and safety of its faculty, staff, and guests, AFCLC embraces social distancing, teleworking, and other precautions per public health guidelines, yet the Center’s specialized courses and educational programs will continue thanks to technology deployed by the staff. And, that’s the plan for any upcoming Pre-Assignment Acculturation Courses (PACs). Switching from an in-person course to using technology to meet virtually will not change how the Center operates. AFCLC faculty are working to ensure the Center can continue offering PACs in the future…even if they cannot be in person.
“The near-term focus areas of AFCLC are to ensure the health and welfare of our faculty, staff, and students, to preserve continuity and relationships, and to prepare to exit the storm. Our virtual concept answers the call on all three of these focus areas for the Airmen who choose us for language, regional expertise, and culture education,” Mr. Ward said.
But, this is just one small portion of AFCLC’s mission. The Center’s thousands of Language Enabled Airman Program scholars, or LEAP scholars, are also learning and training online. Using eMentor, hundreds of LEAP scholars meet virtually for their language courses. It’s a system that has always been in place with LEAP and one that is truly helpful now during the COVID-19 pandemic.
SSgt Lamin Sawo is now participating is AFCLC’s latest eMentor addition of Wolof, a language spoken in West Africa. A native of the Republic of The Gambia, SSgt Sawo came to the United States in 2007 but didn’t live in a metropolitan area such New York, Atlanta, or Seattle where Wolof is spoken more prominently. The virtual classroom eMentor provides is a difference-maker in today’s changing health care climate.
“This the most Wolof I have spoken since I left The Gambia in 2007,” SSgt Sawo said. “I like the instructor very much. He was very knowledgeable and helpful in slowly breaking down everything and letting me think about certain words or phrases when I get stuck. He would jump in and save the day if I took a little more time to recall.”
It is business as usual at AFCFC as a shipment of the Center’s Czech Republic Expeditionary Culture Field Guides (ECFGs) are delivered, and delivery of Kuwait ECFGs will soon arrive. The field guides are available as a handbook and are also available for download via the Center’s app.
While the AFCLC is aggressively protecting the health and safety of its faculty and staff, the Center’s director knows that as the Air Force’s Global Classroom, educating today’s Airmen, no matter their location, remains a top priority.
“AFCLC is still very much open for business, COVID or no COVID,” Mr. Ward said. “AFCLC chartered 10 years ago, and our legacy as the Air Force’s Global Classroom was forged on the individual decision of every person ever affiliated with AFCLC to rise above. Our story today, this very minute, is about what we’re still doing rather than what we’re not doing in light of the coronavirus pandemic. No matter what the situation, the greatest professional family I could ever hope to work with continues their dedication to world-class LREC education, which means meeting you where you are to posture Airmen of any rank for utilization. We were here before COVID – we are in business now – and we will be here to work with you when we all exit the storm together.”