Monday, March 3, 2014

Officer exchange program enhances cultural understanding

Originally published in Academy Spirit (Feb. 28th, 2014).

by Capt. Richard Ricciardi
U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

3/1/2014 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo.  -- Producing lieutenants and leaders for our nation isn't just a mission for instructors at the Academy - it's the duty of five international exchange officers.

The Dean of Faculty, Office of International Programs, oversees these officers from Japan, Germany, Korea, Spain and France, who each provide a culturally diverse classroom setting for cadets.

Maj. Kazuto Ueda
Ueda, a Japan Air Self Defense Force air battle manager, is assigned to the Military and Strategic Studies Department where he teaches an Air, Space and Cyberspace Power course covering national strategy through military operations. He's also a Japanese language supporting instructor.

"Understanding U.S. strategy, doctrine and operations are really useful when coordinating in a joint environment," he said. "I worked with the U.S. during the recent Japanese earthquake and really appreciated the U.S. help at the time. This experience motivated me to become an exchange officer."

Because of Ueda, cadets learn about U.S.-Japan cultural differences, which he said helps them appreciate an international perspective.

"When interacting with the cadets in the class, it's important for them to communicate with a person whose first language isn't English," he said. "This happens when the U.S. conducts joint campaigns with various countries."

A classroom setting provides Ueda the chance to introduce cadets to Japanese perspectives in history, culture and society.

While teaching (this course), I usually use Japanese strategic situations and history examples to explain the strategic concepts," he said.

Lt. Col. Thomas Hiller
Hiller is assigned to the Foreign Languages Department as a German Language instructor. He spent several years as a flight navigator stationed at Randolph AFB, Texas, and Holloman AFB, N.M.

"The interaction and daily contact with young people is the most enjoyable part of the work here," he said. "Being part of developing leaders of character the Academy wants and needs - by teaching them, providing them my points of views and introducing them to German and European culture is a great honor.

"Having people from different cultures and backgrounds help show cadets different perspectives on a variety of issues, opening their horizons, and making them understand that there are different opinions and world views out there that aren't necessarily wrong - but just different and should be considered as well," Hiller said.

Maj. Gonzalo Tortosa-Méndez
Tortosa-Méndez is assigned to the Foreign Languages Department as a Spanish Language instructor. He comes to the United States for his fifth time from Spain with prior experience with the U.S. Navy as an F/A-18 instructor in California.

"I'm very proud to be teaching in a military institution," Tortosa-Méndez said. "As an instructor, what makes me feel proud is when the students actively show me what they have learned."

He's also a liaison officer.

"One of my main duties here is to serve as a liaison between the Spanish Air Force and the U.S. Air Force," Tortosa-Mendez said. "However, the purpose of this exchange is to reinforce the bonds of friendship and understanding between the two countries."
Adjusting to Colorado was a challenge, he said.

"Getting used to the altitude, the different environment, the distance from home, friends and family was probably what took most time, especially for the kids," Tortosa-Mendez said.

Lt. Col. Bongju Song
Song is assigned to the Economics and Geoscience Department where he teaches Macroeconomic Theory. Before this, he taught economics at the Republic of Korea Air Force Academy.

He received a Masters in Economics at the University of Texas at Austin and a Ph.D. in Economics at Texas A&M University in 2009.

"After I finish this assignment, I will go back to the Korean Air Force Academy and teach cadets economics," Song said. "I would like to share this memorable experience at the Academy with cadets at the Korean Air Force Academy."

Song said he strongly believes Academy cadets will have many opportunities after graduating to work with international officers.

Maj. Jérôme d'Oliveira
d'Oliveira, a French Mirage 2000 maintenance officer, is assigned to the Aeronautical Engineering Department as a thermodynamics instructor. He teaches five courses but one of them -- AE 315Z -- is taught in his native tongue. 

"A former instructor in (the Aeronautics Department) said 'Aero is like a foreign language,' so if you have to learn the French translation of skin friction drag, streamlines, stagnation point ... that doesn't change anything for you," he said.

Prior to returning to the Academy after a stint as an Aero Department intern in 2008, d'Oliveira taught at the French Air Force Academy, Ecole de l'Air.

He said he hopes his cadets will learn another point of view about certain topics.
"Faced with an issue, countries have found and developed sometimes very different solutions," he said. "Thanks to my foreign experience, I can introduce a learning objective by a French point of view or a French system, for instance."

Maj. Robin Cadow, program manager for International Engagement, said the international exchange program is an invaluable experience for all participants.

"These exchanges are crucial instruments with which to build and sustain strong international relations with our key allies around the world," she said. "Our German, French, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish exchange officers at USAFA give our cadets a taste of coalition operations with global partners at a nascent stage in their Air Force careers. This introduction to coalition ops will surely prove invaluable to their future careers in an expeditionary Air Force."

Call 333-6656 for more information on the program.