Staff sergeant LEAPs on opportunity to use native tongue

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Melanie Hutto
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Born and raised in Nizhnekamsk, Russia, Anastasia Stuart traveled to the U.S. as a young adult with the intention of only staying a year to improve her English. One year quickly turned into two, and before she knew it, she enlisted into the U.S. Air Force.

"I've always wanted to use my ability to speak Russian to contribute to the mission in some form or fashion," Stuart said.

Although she didn't qualify to be a linguist because she wasn't a U.S. citizen at the time, Stuart continuously searched for opportunities to use her native tongue while working as the NCO in charge of the medical expense performance reporting system at the 6th Medical Support Squadron.

In 2014, Stuart stumbled upon the Language Enabled Airman Program (LEAP).

"LEAP seeks to develop cross-culturally competent leaders with working-level foreign language proficiency -- leaders who can meet Air Force global mission requirements," said Zachary Hickman, a language division chief with the Air Force Culture and Language Center. "We select Airmen from jobs across the Air Force. They stay in their 'day jobs,' but they gain a level of language and culture learning that allows them to do their day jobs in another language and in another country."

Without hesitation, Stuart applied in August 2014 and was accepted two months later. Shortly after, Stuart received notice of her first mission in support of the U.S. European Command’s Ukraine Joint Commission Subcommittee activities.

In light of the U.S. transferring a $7.6 million expeditionary military field hospital to the Ukrainian government to help enhance the country's ability to treat soldiers, the Expeditionary Medical Support System (EMEDS) team was tasked to go there to train about 80 Ukrainian military members.

With knowledge in Russian, as well as the medical career field, Stuart was a perfect match for the five-week temporary assignment. Her job was to translate and interpret for the Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC) in a number of crucial real-world areas related to subcommittee implementation plans, to include land forces, air force and medical subcommittees.

"I was in Zhytomyr (west of Kiev), assisting our EMEDS team in training Ukrainian forces on how to set up and use EMEDS tent, and how to use all the equipment that is assigned with it," Stuart said. "Mostly, my job was to translate the instructions and answer questions. I also translated a number of documents for the ODC, including official memorandums, invoices and appraisals."

One time, she assisted a meeting between the ODC and DHL shipping company officials.

"The issue was the delay in shipments of the non-lethal military aid that the U.S. government sent to support Ukraine in the conflict with Russia," she said. "The shipment was sitting in customs, and there was a big misunderstanding on the local customs procedures that needed to be clarified. I was able to use my language and cultural knowledge to smooth the situation, and assist in the development of a new policy for similar future situations."

LEAP has allowed Stuart to sustain and even enhance her language abilities, which has been useful in her personal and professional life. It is also a stepping stone to accomplishing her career goal of applying for a defense attaché position in an Eastern European country.

"This trip provided me with a great perspective on the role each and every one of us play in supporting the mission on a global scale," she said. "Ultimately, it was not about just being able to speak a different language, but about building relationships with our Ukrainian partners. Our cultures, the way we think and do things are very different, and without that cultural knowledge, one can't simply build those lasting and productive relationships."