US, Kyrgyz service members enhance communication

by Tech. Sgt. Tammie Moore
376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan ― Airmen from the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing here and Kyrgyz soldiers gather twice a month to practice foreign language skills. For the soldiers from Koi Tash, speaking English offers a chance to exercise a skill they learned in school. For Airmen deployed to the Transit Center, it’s a chance to learn the language of their host country, one most of them had never encountered before arriving here.

“The Koi Tash Noncommissioned Officer School language lab is an offshoot of the larger initiative to build an enduring partnership between the school’s enlisted cadre and the enlisted corps of the Transit Center,” said Chief Master Sgt. James Lucas, 376th AEW command chief. The biweekly language lab was established in June of this year as means to increase communication between those involved in the program on a deliberately scheduled basis, the chief said.

Lucas established the partnership program after arriving here in September 2010.

“Our initial engagements with the school were primarily focused on social activities and joint humanitarian projects in and around Koi Tash,” Lucas said. “We now have the language lab underway and there are plans to expand into other professional development topics.”

The Airmen travel from the Transit Center to Koi Tash to participate in the language labs.

“This is a great way to strengthen partnerships between our two countries and build relations,” said Sergeant Erlun, a Kyrgyz Republic soldier. “Also, this helps us increase our knowledge of your language and for you to increase your knowledge of our language. It is a very good opportunity for me to come here and learn English, so I never miss any lessons.”

Like Erlun, several Transit Center Airmen make participating regularly in this language lab a priority.

“This is my focus. Some people have the Manas Area Benefit Outreach Society, some build schools up, but I feel like this is what my calling is ― to come here and teach the soldiers English,” said Tech. Sgt. Nicole Brown. She is the 376th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron Expeditionary Theater Distribution Center noncommissioned officer in charge of the issue section, and is deployed here from Ramstein.

Senior Airman Michael Abrash is a Russian linguist assigned to the Transit Center’s Theater Security Cooperation office who translates lesson material for each class.

“The soldiers are always very happy to see us every time we come,” said the Airman deployed here from March Air Reserve Base, Calif. “Most of the people in our group show up every time. They learn a lot of English and they get a lot of practice.”

Senior Master Sgt. James Wadas, 376th Expeditionary Mission Support Group first sergeant, serves as the program lead. In this role he provides oversight for curriculum development and coordinates volunteer participation.

“I became involved in the program because it was a very unique opportunity that would be mutually beneficial to both Air Force NCOs and our Kyrgyz military partners,” said the sergeant deployed here from Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas. “I think the most rewarding part about this program is the friendships I have built with some of the Kyrgyz NCOs. I also appreciate the fact that they are teaching us some Russian, which helps reinforce the fact that this is a mutual exchange of information.”

Despite constant demands on the command chief’s time, he continues to make the language lab a priority.

“This program is important to me on several levels, but two really stand out,” Lucas said. “First is the absolute need for today’s Airmen to be comfortable in engaging with their host nation military. The language lab and associated exchanges with the NCO school provide our Airmen a unique opportunity to partner with Kyrgyz enlisted members on mutually beneficial professional development activities. You can’t get this kind of experience from a video or a book. You’ve got to experience it on the human level, and these young Airmen are learning and growing with each engagement. Second is the collateral benefit of promoting the capability of the enlisted force to our host nation military. Not only the capability of our enlisted Airmen, but, even more so, the untapped potential they have within their ranks.”

Lucas will turn the program over to his replacement next month before departing the Transit Center.

“I hope the partnership between the Transit Center and the Koi Tash NCO School continues to strengthen and becomes the catalyst for the professional development of our Airmen and Kyrgyz partners,” Lucas said. “My memories of the language lab are centered around the extraordinary degree of cooperation exhibited by our Airmen and Kyrgyz military partners in taking the language lab from concept to reality. These young professionals aren’t just reading about building partnerships and theater security cooperation, they are living it.”