Face of Defense: Officer Uses French-Speaking Skills in Africa
By Air Force Staff Sgt. Heather Stanton
Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa Public Affairs
CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti, Dec. 30, 2010 An Air Force officer deployed here employs her ability to speak French to communicate with local Djiboutians and with other international partners throughout eastern Africa.
Air Force Capt. Sylvia Kim demonstrates how to splint a broken leg to members of the Burundian National Defense Force during a Tactical Combat Casualty Care course Nov. 8, 2010, in Burundi, Africa. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Heather Stanton
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Capt. Sylvia Kim speaks fluent French, one of the official languages of Djibouti and a dominant language throughout the African continent. Realizing her skill could benefit Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, Kim volunteered for her current position as medical planner for the Joint Operations Directorate with CJTF-HOA.
"The knowledge of the language has been essential [while deployed to CJTF-HOA]," Kim said. "French and Arabic are the official languages in Djibouti, French being the operational language. It's been essential in communicating and networking with the local Djiboutians and the camp staff and also imperative with correspondence with the Djiboutian government."
Kim accomplishes much of the official correspondence translation for the task force commander as well as translating presentations.
Not only does Kim use her talent at work, she also shares her knowledge as a basic French language course instructor on Camp Lemonnier in her free time.
"Captain Kim is well organized, inspirational and a patient teacher," said Navy Lt. Kittima Boonsirisermsook, the camp dental officer and one of Captain Kim's French students. "Most of us [students] had hardly ever spoken a word of French before our first class. We were given a lot of class material, a lot of instruction, repetition and practice."
During the course, Kim talked of her time in France, which helped motivate the students, Boonsirisermsook said. She also encouraged the students to talk with Djiboutians on base to brighten their day and show interest in local culture.
A Los Angeles native, Kim began speaking French at a young age because it was a school requirement to learn a foreign language. But by choice, she continued to learn the language, eventually double-majoring in philosophy and French while at the University of California Los Angeles and spending her senior year of study abroad at the prestigious Sorbonne University in Paris.
Kim joined the Air Force in December 2005 after working eight years in the international affairs arena because of her love of travel and the numerous overseas opportunities the military offered.
"Apart from my year in France, I've worked in Hungary, Slovakia, Morocco and Yemen and language has been imperative in each foreign country and I'm happy to learn, share my knowledge, and build lasting partnerships and relationships," she said. "In my previous positions, I found that language was the key to furthering partnerships and getting somewhere with my official duties."
During her Air Force career, Kim has been stationed in the Washington, D.C., area at both Bolling and Andrews Air Force bases. She then spent a year at Osan Air Base, South Korea, and is currently home-stationed in Geilenkirchen, Germany.
While in Korea, Kim used another language skill set to do her job as the Tricare operations and patient administration flight commander.
"I probably spoke Korean 80 percent of my day building partnerships with Korean hospitals where we were sending our patients for higher echelons of care," Kim said.
Kim grew up in a Korean household where her parents did not speak English or French. However, she now considers her French-speaking abilities to be stronger than her Korean.
Kim also has taken basic language courses in Spanish, Mandarin, German and Arabic.
"It bothers me if I'm not able to communicate in the language of the country I am in," she said. "As soon as I arrived at Camp Lemonnier, our Egyptian liaison officer was offering a basic Arabic course and I enrolled in that right away."
When Kim completes her deployment to CJTF-HOA she will return to Germany. However, she dreams of future assignments.
"My dream is to move on to U.S. Africa Command and stay within this sphere of amazing work and amazing partnerships that we are creating throughout CJTF-HOA and the continent of Africa," she said.