These language and culture advisors teach, interpret and translate their native languages as needed, enabling the Air Force Special Operations Command mission.
Getting into the program
The road to becoming a MAVNI can be long and tedious. Applicants undergo language testing, immigration status verification and a security investigation.
Eum, a native of South Korea, proved that persistence pays off.
“I believed that the MAVNI program was the best way to become a true American citizen,” he said. “I kept looking in to it, and I never gave up.”
Eum said he started the process during his sophomore year of high school in Anaheim, California, where his family still resides. He finally made it into the program six years later.
“I heard on the Korean news that the U.S. Air Force started accepting MAVNIs, so I called recruiters,” Eum said. “I called 13 recruiters who never heard of the MAVNI program. It was the 14th who helped me. Not only did he know about the program, but he happened to share the same faith as me, and we bonded.”
As for Sandi, a native of North Africa, he was in the process of signing up with a recruiter when someone else filled his spot.
“Things like this happen,” Sandi said. “Thousands of people are applying in the Army and are waiting up to two years for spots to open up. The Air Force is even more competitive, since we only have six spots.”
Fortunately for Sandi, his recruiter noticed an opening for a French-speaking MAVNI.
“I speak about 10 languages (not all fluently), but French just happened to be one of my best languages,” he said. “So, I was able to secure that spot.”
After a recruiter locks a position for a candidate, they interview with Maj. Kelli Moon, USAFSOS language and culture center chief.
“I’m looking for applicants who are mature and able to operate in demanding environments both here and abroad,” she said. “Education beyond high school, critical thinking, and public speaking skills are highly desired.”
Being a MAVNI
After being selected into the program, MAVNIs attend Basic Military Training at Joint-Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Upon graduation, they report directly to USAFSOS under a special duty identifier and enter a one-year training pipeline for their duties as a MAVNI.
These Airmen have the option to select a track that keeps them at the school for their initial enlistment (up to four years), with the understanding that they must separate from the Air Force upon completion of their contract or apply for a commissioning program. However, they also have the option to complete only two years at USAFSOS and then choose an AFSC, go to tech school and continue their careers in the Air Force.
Sandi has been a MAVNI for the longest of the trio – since August 2014. He’s currently deployed with the 6th Special Operations Squadron at an undisclosed location.
“Our job duties vary,” Sandi said. “Each MAVNI has their own path, as they support different missions.”
Moon said MAVNIs can expect to instruct USAFSOS courses (either locally or off-station), escort visiting partner nation delegations, tutor language students, and interpret conferences.
“MAVNIs also augment irregular warfare activities,” she said. “They attach to other units and teach them about the local language and culture. They translate as needed and give advice on any cultural matters that arise.”
Eum said he enjoys being a MAVNI so much, he’s considering turning down his opportunity to attend the Air Force Academy.
“I worked so hard to be here as a MAVNI. I’m proud to be a MAVNI,” he said. “As much as I’d like to be an officer, I don’t think I can let this go.”
AFSOC needs more MAVNIs
At this time, MAVNI Airmen are only assigned to AFSOC and the program is 50 percent manned, according to Moon.
“We are currently recruiting native speakers in Arabic, Dari and Polish,” she said. “If you know of any native speakers in these languages that you believe would be a great candidate for the MAVNI program, please have them contact us or an Air Force recruiter. We are currently taking applications for interviews to begin in May 2016.”
Foreign nationals must understand that the MAVNI program isn’t an easy journey to citizenship, but it’s an admirable one.
“What better way is there to become an American than to serve in the military?” said Sandi. “I love this country. Serving here makes me feel like I deserve to be here.”
If interested in applying for the MAVNI program, visit
http://www.airforce.com/contact-us/recruiter-locator/. For more information on the program, visit