Student pilot expands career opportunities by LEAPs and bounds

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ashley Crist
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. - - The Language Enabled Airman Program allows Airmen and Guardians to enhance their abilities in a language and work with partner nations around the world.

2nd Lt. Calista Torbenson, a student pilot at Vance Air Force Base, was selected as a 2022 LEAP Scholar and will begin the program after completing pilot training.

“I grew up taking Spanish classes, then I went to the Air Force Academy and took Portuguese,” said Torbenson. “I was lucky enough to do a semester abroad in Portugal, while I was at the Academy,” said Torbenson. “I lived with a host family who only spoke Portuguese.”

Active-duty officers and enlisted members are eligible to apply for LEAP with an endorsement from the unit commander. Candidates then participate in a selection board. Once accepted into the program, scholars will complete four weeks of online courses and three weeks of immersive training.

1st Lt. Saribel Repollet, the 71st Mission Support Group executive officer, is a Puerto Rico native and LEAP scholar. She guided Torbenson in her research about the program.

Repollet is a strong advocate for LEAP and the benefits it can bring. “I know people who have applied multiple times. Keep applying until you get selected,” she said.

Torbenson hopes, through LEAP, to broaden her career and further impact the lives of others. “My long-term language development goal is to serve at least one assignment in the military personnel exchange program. I want to go and just totally immerse myself, working alongside an allied service,” she said. 

Similarly, Repollet is also using the experiences LEAP gave her to expand her career in the military. “My main goal in the program is to make my language skills more international and eventually become a foreign affairs officer.”

Repollet used her language skills to help others while on temporary duty for LEAP in Costa Rica.

“An elderly couple had a lot of issues because their flight got delayed and they were trying to tell the flight attendant that they had to get home. They could not communicate with the flight attendant,” said Repollet.

“The flight attendant asked if there was anyone who could translate, so I jumped in. It was really nice because I ended up communicating with their son and their family who were worried about them not making it home,” said Repollet.

Torbenson is looking forward to the experiences LEAP will offer her. “I like learning and taking classes so it will be rewarding,” said Torbenson.