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American Language Course graduates first class

KIRKUK REGIONAL AIR BASE, Iraq -- Tech. Sgt. Keith Kirkland, 870th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron American Language Course NCOIC and instructor, teaches an English class to Iraqi air force airmen here Sept 8.  The inaugural graduation ceremony for the ALC took place Sept 10.  The program was developed by Sergeant Kirkland and his three-man team to assist the Iraqi air force in achieving their fourth core value of learning the English language.  He is a training manager deployed from Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., and calls Avon Park, Fla., home. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Randi Flaugh)

KIRKUK REGIONAL AIR BASE, Iraq -- Tech. Sgt. Keith Kirkland, 870th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron American Language Course NCOIC and instructor, teaches an English class to Iraqi air force airmen here Sept 8. The inaugural graduation ceremony for the ALC took place Sept 10. The program was developed by Sergeant Kirkland and his three-man team to assist the Iraqi air force in achieving their fourth core value of learning the English language. He is a training manager deployed from Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., and calls Avon Park, Fla., home. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Randi Flaugh)

KIRKUK REGIONAL AIR BASE, Iraq -- Eighteen Iraqi airmen have accomplished one of the top training requirements for the Iraqi air force -- learning the English language. These airmen are the first to graduate from the American Language Course during a ceremony here Sept. 10.

Since English is the international language for aviation, it's imperative to the operations of the IqAF that its airmen know how to use and understand it. The American Language Course was created to teach these airmen the language skills they need to maintain and operate their equipment.

Due to the efforts of Technical Sgt. Keith Kirkland, Non-Commissioned Officer in charge of the ALC, and his three-man team, this graduation is not only a big step for the IqAF, but also for the course itself.

"The first class started in April and it takes approximately 10 months to complete, depending on how well [students] receive the material and what level they start at," said Kirkland, who is deployed from Buckley Air Force Base, Colo.

The class obtained high scores on the course placement test, which allowed them to start at a higher level and finish the course in just 6 months.

The program, which was developed by Kirkland and his team after attending a two-week instructor course, began with the students taking a language placement test through the Defense Language Institute. The American Language Course Placement Test determines the student's current level of English comprehension. The goal for students is a 70 percent or better on the ALCPT, a standard set by Iraqi and U.S. Air Force leadership.

"When the students take the test, a small portion of them score higher than a 70 percent and are not required to go through the course at all," said Sergeant Kirkland.

Learning a new language involves several different and often difficult skills. Building an English vocabulary and learning rules of grammar lay a foundation for students to acquire more challenging skills, like reading and listening, said Sergeant Kirkland.

"The students have to listen to the different speeds, pitches and accents of the language," he said. "[Students] are grasping the language and doing well at it."

Brig. Gen. Shihab, Kirkuk IqAF base commander, was one of many in attendance for the inaugural graduation ceremony and is a huge advocate of the course.

"I feel proud since our base is the first one to apply such a program," said the general. "Instead of sending our people to learn in the college, we've saved the effort and time while gaining the same results. Together -- hand-in-hand -- we have moved forward to more progress and prosperity."

Lt. Col. Jean Havens, 870th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron commander, was here in September of 2007 before an English course was created.

"[Previously,] there was only a bicultural, bilingual advisor who would sit down [with the Iraqis] and teach English for an hour a day, and the progress was not great," she stated.

When Havens returned in May this year, she was able to see a few of the pilots she worked with before. She said their English had improved exponentially, and they were now flying missions solo.

"I could tell what the great importance of the program is, and I really praise the efforts of the IqAF to learn English to further their air force. It's quite a feat," she said.

Lt. Col. Tony Cotto, 870th AEAS base support unit chief, refers to the ALC instructors as unsung heroes.

"We are taking these Airmen out of their element and saying, 'We want you to be an English teacher. We need you to do this mission. This is not what you were trained to do in the Air Force, but we need you to do this because this is going to help the overall mission,'" he said. "These guys [work] selflessly; they are living the core value of service before self. They're the reason why this program is doing so well and why [Iraqis] can launch aircraft sorties."
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