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LEAP Airman uses Arabic skills during deployment, builds host nation relationships as HNCC officer

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Stassney Davis

Today's Air Force thrives on diversity, a defining trait that empowers Airmen worldwide to embrace varied cultures. In support of this commitment, the U.S. Air Force offers the Language Enabled Airman Program, providing Airmen with educational tools to connect with cultures from around the world.

For one Airman, LEAP allowed U.S. Air Force Capt. Nahima Hoque, Host Nation Coordination Cell’s Plans and Programs Officer and Public Health Flight commander, to align her background and interests to establish meaningful partnerships. Inspired by her family’s background, Hoque decided she would study Arabic with a goal to create a better understanding of Middle Eastern culture.

“My family is Muslim, and I grew up reading the Quran, studying religion, and learning about the Islamic Golden Ages but I did not know what I was reading” said Hoque. “I wanted to have the ability to communicate and was very intrigued by the people, history, and cultures in the Arab world – a region often misunderstood.”

Hoque sought to balance her personal interests with professional aspirations. Her passion and desire to address broader issues and promote societal development led her to pursue a degree in public health. Her focus on community health aims to protect populations from biological threats that most people don’t think about on a day to day basis.  

“I enjoy focusing on larger issues and challenges and how their impacts are experienced at the individual and organizational levels, from global health to international cooperation and development,” Hoque said.

After Hoque earned her degree, she served as an AmeriCorps member, a network of local, state, and national service programs that connects over 70,000 Americans each year in intensive service to meet community needs. Hoque knew that after she completed her service that she would need to figure out the next steps.

 “I couldn’t envision myself working an at a health department,” Hoque shared. “I wanted to do something exciting, be challenged, and get outside of my comfort zone.”

 After doing some research, she discovered opportunities in the Air Force that matched her skill sets and educational background.

Hoque decided to first apply to the Boren Awards fellowship, a program designed for students to go overseas and study a language that is critical to U.S. national security. Once the program is completed, fellows commit to serving in the U.S. government for at least one year in an agency with national security focus. On her application essay, Hoque expressed her intent to fulfill the federal service requirement by serving as an Air Force public health officer.

“I have been interested in studying languages for a very long time, but it was so expensive,” said Hoque. “Language study is something that you have to invest in and commit to. The fellowship gave me a year to focus on learning and immersing myself in a culture and region of the world that I grew to love.”

Although she achieved success in acquiring skills in a new language and making meaningful contributions to her community, she had a desire within her to be a part of something greater and more impactful.

As a Public Health officer, she was looking to utilize her language skills in the Air Force and set her sights on becoming a LEAP scholar. LEAP is an Air Force Culture and Language Center managed program developing language-enabled, cross-cultural Airmen and Guardians with a working-level foreign language proficiency. Once Hoque officially became eligible, she put in her application and became a LEAP scholar in October 2021.

“I appreciate LEAP because I am able to maintain my Arabic language study around my schedule no matter where I am in the world,” said Hoque. “Language has opened doors for me. When people discover that I am linguistically capable, they are keen to know if it can be utilized to bridge connections and partnerships or help with barriers that may exist between cultures and communities, which has been rewarding.”

Hoque has been able to use her skills on a recent deployment, where she initially deployed as a Public Health officer and would later extend her deployment to serve at the HNCC to strengthen host nation partnerships and share cultural and religious insights between U.S. and host nation leaders.  

“Col. Arthur Barton, the HNCC Director strongly advocated for creating this opportunity for me and other future LEAP scholars that may not typically get this experience but would benefit greatly from it” said Hoque.

HNCC works closely with host nation military leaders to coordinate and secure support for various activities on the installation. Additionally, they actively cultivate partnerships to ensure a cohesive relationship, enabling the Air Force to conduct its missions.

“Our partnership with the host nation has developed to be a wonderful professional working relationship and even a friendship,” said Hoque. “The ability to speak their language combined with interest in their culture definitely created unique engagement opportunities for HNCC.” 

During her time at HNCC, Hoque experienced the enthusiasm that the host nation’s female officers drew from meeting their U.S. counterparts. With military service recently opening up to females in their country, HNCC had the honor of attending their third and largest cohort’s graduation ceremony to date.

In a world where effective communication is crucial, the Air Force's commitment to promoting language proficiency reflects a forward-thinking approach to international engagement. By investing in and empowering linguistically diverse Airmen, like Capt Hoque, the USAF can strengthen its operational capabilities and further strengthen its partnerships with host nations and allies.