I entered the University of Texas in Fall 2007 as a cadet in Air Force ROTC Detachment 825. The Air Force encourages all of its members to learn new languages, and actually pushed me to major in one. I remember sitting down in front of our commandant of cadets and when she handed me a list of languages that that Air Force would offer a scholarship to study, Japanese immediately jumped out at me. Due to ROTC and lack of funds, I was unable to study abroad. My classmates who did though, certainly benefited form it and excelled in the language much faster than I did. After four years of having to attend Japanese class in my Air Force uniform, making some great friends, and learning with some amazing teachers, I finally graduated! I was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Air Force in May 2011.
The United States and Japan have a strong bond and relationship shared between militaries for many years. I remember my senior year of college when the earthquake and tsunami brought turmoil to Tohoku and Fukushima, and watching how the US military worked hand in hand with the Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF) in Operation Tomodachi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Tomodachi). I looked forward to being able to use the language skills I gained with my degree to continue the relationship between our two countries.
After commissioning I went through tech school at Goodfellow AFB, Texas and graduated as an Intelligence Officer, my first choice career field, and was sent to Vandenberg AFB, California to start working on behalf of Joint Functional Component Command (JFCC) Space. JFCC Space is unique in that it was the first of its kind and has set an example for other countries on how to control and maintain their satellite structure. Because of that we have had frequent visitors from militaries across the world. One such visit though, we were honored to meet the Japanese Chief of Staff General Shigeru Iwasaki. The chief of staff ranks third for the overall chain of command for the country. My leadership at JFCC Space were excited to have me there to speak Japanese to the General and his guests, so I was asked to meet him during part of his tour. I was able to speak with him, in Japanese, about my career, and some of the things we do at my work. Some of the senior US officers just stood around us and stared, unable to understand. We only spoke for about 5 minutes, but he was very impressed and even asked if I would be attending other parts of the tour so that we could talk more.
I am currently deployed overseas. I encounter people from at least 10 different countries, all speaking different languages on a daily basis. Unfortunately none of them are Japanese, but even being able to say "bonjour! comment allez-vous?" to the French members, or "as-salam aleykum!" to our Arabic members means a lot to them, and very subtly helps grow the bonds between all of us. If/when we have a Japanese visitor to any job I've held since entering the Air Force, I am always called upon to greet the guest, make them feel more at home, by speaking to them in their native language. I love that my degree gave me this opportunity!
I look forward to my return from this deployment, and will be due for a new assignment shortly afterwards. Maybe I will end up at one of the three US Air Force bases in Japan some day and be able to gain the immense language skills that come with living in country! For now I am happy serving exactly where I am, but I know my undergraduate studies can take me even further, since the Air Force heavily encourages learning a second language. I love my job, and highly recommend it!