Hanscom Airman earns center-level award through language

  • Published
  • By Lauren Russell
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – An Airman from the 66th Air Base Group was recently named the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Language Capable Airman of the Year.

Tech. Sgt. Rene Ibarra, 66th Force Support Squadron Force Management Section chief, has leveraged his fluency in Spanish to support the mission here, and across the Air Force.  

“I never thought I would come to Massachusetts and get such an opportunity to practice my language,” he said.

Ibarra was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, where he grew up speaking Spanish in his Mexican-American home. Once he enlisted in the Air Force in 2015, he confirmed his proficiency with a special experience identifier, enrolling him in the Language-Enabled Airman Program, known as LEAP.

Shortly after arriving at Hanscom in May 2022, Ibarra’s LEAP status proved crucial when the 66 FSS began closing operations at the installation lodging facilities.

“I was able to translate updates for the staff who spoke very little English and help them secure other employment opportunities and look into their retirement options,” said Ibarra. “Real translation is all in the details, so it was really beneficial for everyone to have an interpreter.”

Col. Taona Enriquez, installation commander, highlighted how his service has influenced others.

“Tech. Sgt. Ibarra's expertise in Spanish is one shining example of the diverse and valuable contributions Team Hanscom CEOs [civilians, enlisted and officers] can make in the Air Force and surrounding communities,” she said. “His service is a testament to the limitless potential and endless possibilities for those who answer the call to serve, military or civilian.”

This was not the first time Ibarra was able to bridge critical communication barriers.

Before he was part of Team Hanscom, he was a member of the Inter-American Air Forces Academy at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas, a schoolhouse that provides professional education and training to military personnel across the Americas and other partner nations.

Ibarra saw the position advertised on the Assignment Management System, with the requirement of Spanish proficiency.

“It was a unique opportunity that I hadn’t seen anywhere else in the Air Force,” he said.

Ibarra was soon on his way to Latin America to teach professional military education courses to Colombian enlisted and officers, completely in Spanish.

“It was amazing to represent the Air Force this way,” he said. “We were completely immersed in the culture. Once the course was over, and the members were no longer my students, the friendships and partnerships remained.”

Once he returned to the IAAFA schoolhouse, there came another once-in-a-career opportunity when Ibarra was asked to serve as a translator for an international senior enlisted leader summit hosted by the chief master sergeant of the Air Force.

“It was amazing to see these networks form with members around the world,” he said.

Ibarra said he was not the only Airman at the summit serving as an interpreter. Service members were there interpreting through Russian, Portuguese, French, and a whole collection of Asian languages and dialects.

The IAAFA sister-school, the Inter-European Air Forces, offers similar opportunities for partner nations throughout Europe and Africa.

Ibarra encourages service members to enroll in LEAP, regardless of their proficiency level.

“Take the test and see what doors it opens for you,” he said. “I don’t regret a single day in this program. It has helped me develop myself, and I’m included  in missions that have a huge impact on global partnerships.”

When Ibarra shared the news of his AFLCMC award with his mother, he said she was extremely proud.

“Not just of my service, but for using our language to benefit people’s lives,” said Ibarra, who once tutored 11 families in Texas who were studying English for their U.S. citizenship tests.

Ibarra said that practicing his language has connected him not only with his family and culture, but with his career and passions in life.

“This whole experience has inspired me; it’s given me my ‘why,’” he said.

For information on LEAP, visit the Air Force Culture and Language Center through the Air Force Portal.