449th AEG Airman helps bridge language barriers

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jayson Burns
  • 449th AEG

In a deployed environment, communication is key. Not just within the U.S. military, but with its allies and partner nations as well. It’s important to breach the language and cultural barriers to successfully address regional issues and maintain stability.

Senior Airman Allison Ganapamo, PERSCO technician with the 449th Air Expeditionary Squadron, was asked to help do just that in a meeting between U.S. and French civil engineers as a translator at Chabelley Airfield, Djibouti.

“Senior Airman Ganapamo enabled the clarity of message to ensure that U.S. Air Force interests were clearly delivered to our allies,” said Lt. Col. Anders Hedberg, commander of the 776th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron. “She ensured nothing was lost in translation as we worked through coordinated efforts of a complex engineering project to overhaul a runway.”

With Ganapamo’s linguistic ability, the meeting resulted in a mutually agreed upon way ahead for the runway project.

“I was hoping I would have the opportunity to act as a translator,” Ganapamo said. “I was looking for opportunities to gain more experience in the things I love doing. I started off by retaking the defense language proficiency test and helping with French classes on Camp Lemonnier.”

Ganapamo was born in Montpellier, France, and grew up with French as her first language. While the meeting at Chabelley was the first time she was able to translate professionally, she’d already had plenty of experience at home.

“My parents haven’t always been the best with English so at times I would have to facilitate conversations. I also have a rather culturally diverse family so I was exposed to ‘translating’ at an early age,” Ganapamo said. “For example, my parents speak a dialect called Sango. It's a dialect spoken in the Central African Republic. Translating is something that feels natural to me. Technically, I've been doing it my whole life.”

Leaders in the U.S. Air Force have the opportunity to foster this kind of competency in their Airmen through experiences such as Language Enabled Airmen Program (LEAP), which develops language enabled, cross-cultural service members with working-level foreign language proficiency.

“The focal point of our competitive edge will always be our Airmen,” Hedberg said. “Having multilingual Airmen allows for a deeper level of connection during engagements with allies and partners. Such connection builds trust and furthers strategic lines of effort focused on strengthening our influence and partnerships.”

According to Ganapamo, the key to being successful when translating different languages is to be confident and trust in your own abilities.

“The way people will interpret what you are saying is something to keep in mind, and also making sure things don’t get lost in translation is important,” Ganapamo said. “Sometimes, in order to find the right words to communicate the right message, you have to reword and shift the sentence. You aren’t always able to translate things literally. At the end of the day it's about building a bridge of understanding.”

Ganapamo plans to apply for LEAP in the future, as well as retrain and bring her skills to the Public Affairs career field.

“It was an amazing opportunity to see how I could use my natural abilities to contribute to the world,” Ganapamo said. “It opened up my eyes to many opportunities.”