JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO–LACKLAND, Texas —
On any given day, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland is populated with international military students, learning English and about life in the United States, with the goal to use those lessons to help their countries better engage with the U.S. military.
The 637th International Support Squadron (ISS) has been front and center as part of the Defense Language Institute and the 37th Training Wing when it comes to reaching out to international students, making them feel welcomed through the American Members of International Goodwill to Others program, or AMIGO.
“The AMIGO [program] is simply to make friends for life,” said Dan Vega, 637th ISS AMIGO program manager. “It gives the international students an idea of our American society so they can get to see our customs and courtesies and our way of life.”
Learning English is an essential part of foreign military sales and Department of Defense security cooperation. Each student gets a hands-on perspective of English in a military context while enrolled at DLI. But before students can even attend DLI, they must be thoroughly vetted and tested on their current level of English. Once approved, the process of bridging individual language proficiency gaps begins in order to meet requirements for the student’s next stage of training or education.
While day-to-day technical language instruction is important, so is learning more about life and culture in America. That’s when the AMIGO program steps in to complete the experience.
AMIGO consists of military personnel, retirees and civilian volunteers. Jana Halverson, an AMIGO volunteer for over five years, has opened her home and included her extended family in many of the program’s excursions.
“How awesome would that be to get to know people from all over the world and build friendships,” Halverson asked.
The students like attending cultural events, and some have even experienced birthday celebrations that normally don’t happen in their countries. All of this exposure gives them a close up view of American customs they’ve never seen before.
“We support over 120 countries from Afghanistan to Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Japan, Ukraine, to name a few,” Vega said. “The volunteers are what makes the AMIGO program.”