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US Military to host China ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ training event

Lieutenant Col. Justin Settles, deputy director, China Aerospace Studies Institute, presents a lecture at the China ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ training event June 8, 2021, at the Air University Teaching and Learning Center, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.

Lt. Col. Justin Settles, China Aerospace Studies Institute deputy director, presents a lecture at the China ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ training event June 8, 2021, at the Air University Teaching and Learning Center, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. The Language Intensive Training Event, June 7-18, 2021, is for an elite group of Language Enabled Airmen Program scholars to take a closer look at China’s global economic and political objectives, as part of the Air Force chief of staff’s mandate to “Accelerate Change or Lose.” (U.S. Air Force photo by Melanie Rodgers Cox)

Lieutenant Gen. James Hecker, Air University commander and president, opens the inaugural China ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ training event, June 7, 2021, at the AU Teaching and Learning Center, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.


In keeping with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr.’s mandate of "Accelerate Change or Lose," the Air Force Culture and Language Center is co-hosting the “Belt and Road Initiative” training event June 7-18, at Air University to take a closer look at China’s global economic and political objectives.

AFCLC partnered with Air University, China Aerospace Studies InstituteAir War CollegeArmy War College and the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center to host the event at the Air University Teaching and Learning Center.

During the two-week language intensive training event, an elite group from the Language Enabled Airmen Program will also focus on Brown’s "Action Order C: Competition" by dissecting the strategic Great Power Competition between the United States, Russia and China to better understand the ambitions of these strategic world powers.

The Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI, is perhaps China’s greatest international economic ambition, aiming to stimulate economic development in a vast region covering subregions in Asia, Europe and Africa, which accounts for 64% of the world’s population and 30% of the world’s gross domestic product. On the surface, the BRI may seem intended to continue China’s economic growth, but questions remain concerning the initiative’s timing, its true nature and how it will affect the global marketplace and security initiatives.

“The Belt and Road Initiative course is an answer to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force’s direction to sharpen focus on Great Power Competition with respect to China and its global aspirations,” said Lt. Gen. James B. Hecker, Air University commander and president, who welcomed the LEAP scholars to kick off the event. “In this time of strategic competition, it is more important than ever to arm our service members with the current knowledge and language skills to better understand our adversaries and strengthen communication among partner nations.”

During the event, LEAP scholars will undergo intensive study of the BRI in their target language and associated regional culture. Speaking in either Chinese-Mandarin, Spanish or French, the scholars will focus specifically on China’s initiative within the U.S. Indo-Pacific CommandU.S. Southern Command and U.S. Africa Command areas of responsibility. They will attend lectures and participate in discussions with instructors from CASI and DLIFLC Language Training Detachment to understand Chinese global political and economic influence.

“This course is an example of Air University doing what Air University does best,” said AFCLC director Howard Ward during his opening welcome. “AU consistently invents and reinvents the way Airmen and Guardians are prepared to prevail against an adversary. The path to victory begins with critical thinking skills. This week, our LEAP scholars will receive instruction that’s completely different than they’ve seen before. We’re blending high-end academic education from CASI and Air University faculty with strong, professional language education from the DLIFLC Language Training Detachment to help make these Airmen and Guardians fluent in the Belt and Road Initiative.”

While participating in guest lectures on topics ranging from China’s Belt and Road to diplomatic relations with Taiwan, China and the Caribbean, humanitarian assistance, international trade and alliances, infrastructure, space, cybersecurity, economics and military sales, all the participants will be learning and speaking in their target-specific languages of Chinese-Mandarin, French or Spanish.

“I think this is a good start on helping the Air Force understand the holistic nature of the challenge. Just because someone isn’t a China foreign area officer or isn’t stationed in the Indo-Pacific region, by no means, they don’t need to understand the challenge, and they need to understand how they can contribute to it,” said Dr. Brendan Mulvaney, CASI director and guest lecturer. “China has diplomatic and economic interests and goals worldwide, so every Airman needs to be attuned to those and know how they can contribute. Whether it is working with allies and partners to ensure they understand and share in our goals and world view, working with others around the world to understand what the People’s Republic of China is doing and relay that information back or dealing directly with the PRC, every Airman has a role to play.”

The course isn’t by any means a passive learning activity. The 19 LEAP scholars will break into smaller workgroups of two or three during the two weeks to prepare final projects for the last day of the course. The final project will be a 10- to 15-minute presentation, in their respective language, that addresses a problem or concern their specific area of responsibility is having with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The scholars are expected to integrate perspectives and information gained during the course and include an English abstract, oral presentation in their target presentation, five to 10 slides and a question-and-answer period moderated by the instructor.

“This event is an excellent demonstration of how we can combine the strengths of multiple institutions to innovate in language, regional expertise and culture education,” said Dr. Thomas Stovicek, LTD site director, DLIFLC-CE-Field Support. “Great Power Competition is something that touches every theater of operation, and I believe the scholars will come away from the course with a new perspective on how their advanced language skills are a powerful tool for analyzing diverse perspectives on complex global themes. I believe the education these LEAP scholars will gain will better prepare them to fill key roles in support of the geographic combatant commands


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