Airman Leading Through Language
by U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Sarah Williams
July 8, 2022
At the age of 22, Tech. Sgt. Eric Knepper, began his journey looking for a meaningful career.
Knepper walked into an Air Force recruiter's office, not knowing what would await him. The recruiter offered Knepper a career as a cryptologic Korean linguist. Eager for the challenge, Knepper took the Defense Language Aptitude Battery exam and met the score needed to qualify for the career field.
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Eric Knepper poses for a photo at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas on June 3, 2022. Knepper has been a cryptologic Korean linguist for almost 16 years. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sarah Williams.)
Soon after, he enlisted with a guaranteed linguist job, completed Basic Military Training and then entered two years of academically rigorous training at two military installations.
Following completion of his tech school training, he served 14 years as a cryptologic Korean linguist and was assigned to multiple bases including Osan Air Base, South Korea; Fort George G. Meade, Maryland; and Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
Today, Knepper is assigned to the 316th Training Squadron at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, and served the past two years as an instructor of the Korean linguist course.
The 316th is responsible for training, developing, and inspiring intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance cryptologic Airmen.
Knepper uses the experiences gained throughout his career to develop the next generation of cryptologic Korean linguists.
“I often remind students that I was exactly where they are,” said Knepper. “I was not the most gifted linguist, but I kept working at it and stayed determined. Now I’m instructing the course.”
During training, cryptologic linguists attend two schools, the first teaches the assigned language at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center at Presidio of Monterey, California. The second goes in-depth, teaching the skills needed for their careers at Goodfellow AFB, Texas. This switch in schools and mindset often becomes an obstacle in keeping their determination.
“Students spend their first half of training learning the culture and language of the country,” said Knepper. “Students are usually a year and a half into training when they get to Goodfellow to focus on the tactical side of their job. After being in training for so long, most students are ready to be done, it’s our job as instructors to refocus them.”
Using his own stories, Knepper is able to not only refocus, but also excite students about their studies and the job they will perform in the operational Air Force.
“Most students don’t know what their job is exactly when they get to Goodfellow AFB,” said Knepper. “Telling students’ stories from my active duty experiences gives them insight into what the job is really like. The material becomes more than just something they have to know to pass a test, it becomes more relevant to them.”
After months of focusing on their studies and applying skills within the class, students are able to finally graduate from Goodfellow AFB.
“Getting students that start from knowing nothing and watching them grow through this long process is a wonderful feeling,” said Knepper. “There’s nothing like seeing the happiness on students faces the day they graduate and knowing that I helped. This career is something I’ve been doing for almost 16 years, and now I get to pass on the knowledge and responsibility to the next generation.”
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