MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
CMSgt Angel Milan will soon celebrate 25 years of service in the U.S. Air Force. With more than eight years in the Air Force Culture and Language Center’s Language Enabled Airman Program, he couldn’t imagine doing anything else. He said he has the perfect job.
Currently working at the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon, Portugal, under joint service with the Defense Intelligence Agency, Milan is not only the highest-ranking Airman in LEAP, but he was surprised by how many questions he received about LEAP and AFCLC, especially from his fellow enlisted Airmen.
“I get many questions from enlisted members on how to be part of AFCLC and LEAP, how to apply to the program, and what’s in it for them,” Milan said. “I believe in the Culture and Language Center and the LEAP program, but I want to tell others WHY this is important not just for ourselves but for the service we can do for others. Since I’ve joined, I can see the difference. Since I’m in a country that speaks a different language, I definitely see the differences. When I went to language school at Defense Language Institute (DLI), I could tell the other service branches didn’t have a cultural center or elite program where their language instruction is on par. This is a career investment and development in the training of an individual that will enhance further education opportunities.”
For Milan, his answer to most questions about LEAP and AFCLC usually begins with “career investment and development.” Should the next question be, “What’s in it for me?” then he knows that person is not serious about making the commitment necessary to be part of the program.
“I like to say LEAP is the weapons school for languages,” Milan said. “It readies you to execute at the highest level where you will possibly need your language and culture skills to complete a mission. We are ready Airmen trained to execute in peace or emergency, and you can see it in our Airmen when they are called to train because their skills are sharp. When the moment calls, they will not have any doubts about their language and culture skills.”
A few years ago, Milan served as part of the LEAP selection board, where he reviewed nearly 1,000 applications for only a few hundred slots and witnessed firsthand just how competitive the selection process is.
“Sitting on the LEAP board was a tremendous opportunity to look behind the curtain,” he explained. “It allowed me to see how the selection process worked, which helps me better advise potential applicants now than I did in the past. Having gone through the selection process as a board member, you see the process differently. You won’t be chosen just because you’re good at a language. It’s a combination of things from your dedication to language and culture, proof of your sustained performance in the Air Force, the needs of the Air Force at that time, and recommendations from your commander and supervisor. The process paints a picture of what is your potential as an individual with that opportunity of enhancing or developing a new language and culture skills.”
It took Milan a while to decide to apply to LEAP. The first hurdle was that the program was not open to enlisted, and then it was only available to officers. It wasn’t because Milan was not interested, mind you. He was, and when his commander encouraged him to apply, Milan’s wheels began turning again.
“The seed was planted after I read an article about the application process opening up to enlisted, but I put it aside. I knew there was a need for Spanish speakers, but I felt I was late in my career since I was already a Master Sergeant. But my commander convinced me to apply. He told me you don’t lose anything just by trying, and he was right,” Milan said. “That was in 2012, and it was like things just started falling into place. I quickly promoted to Senior Master Sergeant, and then I had a decision to make: Do I leave or make myself available knowing there are Chiefs already in the program? I decided for myself that I couldn’t look at rank and what others were doing. I had to look at myself, my capability, and offer what I could. Once the Language Intensive Training Events started, everything took off. I was exposed to different countries, different cultures, different receptacles of serving people, and different lenses for looking at the world. Those memories and experiences have made me the Chief I am today!”
Milan encourages young and experienced Airmen alike to seek out educational opportunities no matter where they are in their careers. He took Introduction to Culture and Cross-Cultural Communication to see the benefits of studying other people and cultures so he can apply that knowledge to his job and the opportunity to connect with other Airmen more efficiently. According to Milan, distance learning courses allow the student to grow as an individual and professional.
It’s not unusual for LEAP to change lives and careers. Many count on it. For Milan, who admits with a huge grin that LEAP and AFCLC are considerable contributors to his dream job, he continues to pay it forward to young Airmen looking for change and adventure in their careers.
“My life and career definitely changed for the better. I got more involved with everything from learning to military and political issues…everything! It’s the moment that you stop learning that you start dying. You stop learning, you stop growing, and then I think that’ll be the day that I will know that I’m ready for retirement,” Milan said.