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Air University center helps shape airpower with GOPAC, COMPAC

Air University center helps shape airpower with GOPAC, COMPAC

Colonel Thang Doan interacts with faculty during his tailored Commander's Pre-assignment Acculturation Course, or COMPAC, at Air University’s Culture and Language Center. The center provides intensive culture training to commanders before departing for overseas assignments. Doan is heading to Kadena Air Base, Japan, as the 18th Mission Support Group commander. (Air Force photo by William Birchfield)

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --

Inside of a conference room at the Air Force Culture and Language Center at Air University here, general officers and commanders have been quietly meeting, training and preparing for deployments and assignments.

Described as some of the Air Force’s “best training opportunities” over the years, AFCLC has quickly become a preferred pit stop for senior leaders seeking culture, region and language training.

Known as GOPAC, or General Officer Pre-Deployment Acculturation Courses, the training structure was developed in 2009. At the time, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force requested that the Air Force chief of staff ensure general officers being deployed to the Middle East had language and region training. GOPAC formed as a result of this request. Once AFCLC started offering the courses, the Air Force mandated officers in certain positions attend GOPAC prior to deploying to Afghanistan or Iraq.

For years, AFCLC focused specifically on training general officers heading to the Middle East. As word spread about GOPAC, the program grew, new countries were added and the curriculum expanded to include commanders.

In 2018, COMPAC, or Commander Pre-Assignment Acculturation Courses, was born.

“It’s really spreading by word of mouth,” said Mary Newbern, head of AFCLC’s Expeditionary Programs, “The more people hear about it, the more phone calls we get from people volunteering to come and take a course.”

Jessica Jordan, AFCLC’s assistant professor of Regional and Cultural Studies (Asia), led the Center’s first COMPAC this year. She researched for months to help her student, Col. Thang Doan, prepare for his assignment as the 18th Mission Support Group commander at Kadena Air Base, Japan.

The colonel’s course of study, held May 3-4, 2018, focused on the Japanese language and political environment. Specifically, how to build lasting relationship in the community and form partnerships that will help the Air Force in the long term.

“I would have never received this training in another forum—state-of-the-art facilities, with detailed culture and region training,” said Doan.  

Designed in-house by AFCLC’s faculty, the executive leadership curriculum is tailored to fit the needs of each individual student. Ranging from one day of formal instruction to five days of extensive coursework, each session is based on the officer or commander’s job, assignment and experience in the country. AFCLC faculty members conduct interviews with the students and other military officials to get a good scope of the job description, language requirements and overall expectations. Once the faculty members determine the curriculum and lesson plans for the individualized course, they often reach out to other cultural and regional academics to offer input.

“We work closely with the Defense Language Institute, Air University schools and other organizations. We pull in people with a variety of expertise to make sure that the officers and commanders are fully prepared when they leave here,” said Newbern.  

When they leave, the students have a broad idea of key cultural concepts that will help with specific mission objectives, basic cross-cultural communication skills to negotiate and work with translators and a basic understanding of native speech and cultural differences. From day one, the officers are introduced to language and regional analysis training and the topics advance as the courses progress. Each session ends with a practical exercise to help them gain some real-world experience before they leave.

The center’s GOPAC and COMPAC courses fall in line with Air Education and Training Command’s Continuum of Learning initiative. The initiative’s model is a shift to better focus how Airmen learn by integrating education, training and experience in ways that allow them to learn anytime and anywhere throughout their careers. The end goal of the continuum is to create a culture of life-long learners.

By offering individualized executive leadership education pre-deployment and pre-assignment, AFCLC is using AETC’s on-command and on-demand learning system, giving commanders and general officers a certain level of language and cultural expertise and creating courses to fit their personal and professional career goals.

“AFCLC’s senior executive education courses, as well as all of our education and training efforts, reflect the three pillars of the continuum of learning: learner driven, career spanning and individually tailored based upon previous education and experience,” said Howard Ward, AFCLC director. “Culture and language, delivered through the continuum of education, better prepares Airmen to successfully employ airpower as they work with partner air forces and populations where they deploy and get assigned.”