America’s Global Classroom—Education for the Future Fight: Director Ward Discusses Why the Air Force Culture and Language Center Is Needed Now More Than Ever


“There has never been a moment in history nor in national strategy that has called for language and cultural skills the way these skills are called for today,” said Mr. Howard Ward Jr., director of the Air Force Culture and Language Center (AFCLC) at Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, AL.

The AFCLC, founded at Air University in 2006, is responsible for culture and language training and education across the U.S. Air Force. Known as “the Air Force’s Global Classroom,” the center strives to prepare Airmen for global missions.

Mobility Airmen have deep roots in global missions, Ward pointed out. Being a Mobility Airman himself with 28 years of active duty, Ward recognizes that they operate an immense global supply chain and continually launch aircraft around the clock.

“Mobility Airmen must have some level of presence in nearly every country with a runway,” Ward said. “The commonality shared by these countries is interaction with people.”

The future fight increasingly warrants the need for effectively connecting with others around the globe. With speeds of events that can be considered unprecedented in U.S. history, Airmen must be ready—and ready quickly—to carry out the needs of the missions that arise.

Afghanistan is a prime example of how rapidly events can unfold. In Operation Allies Refuge (OAR), thousands of Afghanistan civilians fled onto the airfield to evade the approaching Taliban forces. The Afghans were displaced from their homes, frightened, and desperately needing human connection during a time of panic and vulnerability.

Not only that, but Airmen had a tremendous need themselves; tasked with transporting the Afghanistan refugees, the need to communicate effectively and efficiently was critical to mission success.

Thankfully, the AFCLC has the resources Airmen require to meet this need. The center’s Culture Guide app, which is available on Android and iOS platforms, helps Airmen break down cultural barriers through its Expeditionary Culture Field Guides (ECFGs). The app offers over 75 ECFGs (adding around 5-7 guides per year) to help Airmen achieve mission success in culturally complex environments.

Each guide is packed with invaluable information on topics such as:

  • Political and Social Relations
  • Religion and Spirituality
  • Family and Kinship
  • Sex and Gender
  • Language and Communication
  • Learning and Knowledge
  • Time and Space
  • Aesthetics and Recreation
  • Sustenance and Health
  • Economics and Resources
  • Technology and Material

Ward shared that during OAR, the AFCLC advised Airmen to open the Afghanistan guide and learn as much as possible, particularly about the cultural domains of family and kinship, gender roles, food, and health.

The Department will have the required combination of language skills, regional expertise, and cultural capabilities to meet current and projected needs.
Enhance partner interoperability and adversary understanding in Airmen through language, regional expertise, and culture education.
The “Air Force’s Global Classroom”

Airmen focused on these areas and thus identified the need to keep families together for stability in the encampments. By learning about proper dietary provisions, Airmen created a sense of comfort and gained trust among the evacuees, Ward said.

“We like to think we really made a difference, and it came down to Airmen embracing the technology and learning that in that way.”

This format offers many benefits that traditional guidebooks cannot—it allows what Ward emphasized as “velocity and scale.” The app not only saves money but also the logistical hassle of printing and shipping guidebooks every time an update is needed. Instead, updates to the app are made quickly, and information is readily available.

Airmen have embraced this format, with nearly 32,000 downloads of the app so far, and this number is rapidly increasing.

The app is inherently accessible, allowing Airmen to access pertinent information on the fly. This is incredibly useful in Agile Combat Employment (ACE), in terms of Multi-Capable Airmen (MCA) and host nation integration. Cultural preparation via technology boosts readiness and adds a strategic advantage.

“Building a force integrated by design with partners and allies starts with education,” Ward said.

Ward shared the many educational resources, beyond the app, that AFCLC offers. For example, the Language Enabled Airman Program (LEAP) is a career-spanning program to develop a cadre of Airmen across all specialties with working-level foreign language proficiency (covering 95 languages). To be mindful of limited time, the AFCLC assessed the gaps in knowledge that can be filled. The program is a volunteer program with active duty officer and enlisted Airmen and Guardians in most career fields. “I think members of LEAP are exemplars of MCA, central to the concept of ACE, because of their Air Force skills and knowledge of culture and language,” Ward stated.

In addition to the Culture Guide app and LEAP, the center reaches its roughly 210,000 Airmen per year through online training, Community College of the Air Force-accredited courses, officer professional military education, General Officer pre-deployment training, and media operations.

“When an Airman is ready to learn, we are here to teach,” emphasized Ward. “The time is now to dive into cultural and language training.”

Ward explained Airmen must understand adversary decision-making and be able to connect with partners and allies without letting barriers due to culture and language get in the way. He says education is the solution and putting the Air Force’s Global Classroom in every Airman’s pocket is the key to unlocking success in today’s environment.

“As a Mobility Airman with deep roots in a global mission, I consider it a privilege to have a leadership role in an organization working to enhance the effectiveness of not only my beloved Mobility community, but all Airmen globally that are engaged with partners in deterring adversaries,” Ward said.

To learn more about the tools AFCLC offers for navigating the globe and supporting mission demands, visit: