Staff Sgt. Alain Mukendi, 31st Force Support Squadron Airman Leadership School instructor, teaches an ALS class Oct. 3, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Mukendi, who is fluent in French, returned to Africa for a 30-day immersion after being selected for the Language Enabled Airman Program. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez)
KSDK - When Staff Sgt. Alain Mukendi first came to St. Louis from the Democratic Republic of Congo, he spoke virtually no English. That quickly changed, and now, languages are his specialty.
Mukendi , who has served in the U.S. Air Force for 11 years, has been selected to become a regional expert through the Language Enabled Airman Program (LEAP), which allows him to development maintain his cultural and language capabilities.
He is fluent in French, English and three other African dialects.
"I am blessed with the aptitude of a different language and I am happy that the Air Force recognizes that," he said in a news release.
Mukendi, who was born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo, moved to the U.S. in 1999 after his father won the diversity Visa lottery, which allowed the family to legally migrate and move to the U.S.
Two years later, they made St. Louis their home.
"I hated it for the first six months," he said. "It was extremely difficult because it was a complete 180-degree change. From the culture to the language, everything was different. I was afraid to speak because I didn't want to be made fun of."
Despite the language barrier, Mukendi managed to graduate from school in two years. A few months later, he decided to join the Air Force, which taught him to speak up.
"I was forced to speak in basic training, but it was good for me," he said. "I had no choice but to execute and do my job as an airman. I even became a red rope and helped lead 300 students."
He and several other LEAP selectees recently stayed at Lome University in Togo, where they were able to immerse themselves in local culture.
"It was great learning new things, the locals took care of us," he said. "I learned a phrase while I was there: 'c'est gratuit' which means 'it's free.' They were basically telling us that whatever deeds they did for us were free and we did not have to worry about giving back."
But despite that phrase, he says that life is all about giving back.
"As a young boy, I was always taught that it's all about giving back," Mukendi said. "I am finally giving back to the Air Force, who has given so much to me. I am able to share my experiences with my students, coworkers and future airmen."