EMCC: We’re ‘listening’ to international spouses

Mayumi Yoshida, wife of Maj. Seiji Yoshida, and Emi Matsuzaki, wife of 1st Lt. Shu Matsuzaki, dicuss their experience in the listening program offered on base through East Mississippi Community College. This program allows international spouses to sit in on classes offered at EMCC’s branch on base, but without the stress of having to take tests and complete homework assignments. The listening program is a way for overseas families to connect with people at their new U.S. duty station. (U.S. Air Force by Airman 1st Class Danielle Powell)

Mayumi Yoshida, wife of Maj. Seiji Yoshida, and Emi Matsuzaki, wife of 1st Lt. Shu Matsuzaki, dicuss their experience in the listening program offered on base through East Mississippi Community College. This program allows international spouses to sit in on classes offered at EMCC’s branch on base, but without the stress of having to take tests and complete homework assignments. The listening program is a way for overseas families to connect with people at their new U.S. duty station. (U.S. Air Force by Airman 1st Class Danielle Powell)

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Military families look after their own, and the trick is this - the definition of "family" includes more people than outsiders might expect. It always means your immediate family, of course, but it also means the young wife down the street learning to cope while her husband is deployed. At Columbus AFB, it extends to more than 6,000 retired military living nearby. 

The CAFB family also includes student pilots, lots of them, with a new class starting the 52-week course every three weeks. 

I grew up a U.S. Navy dependant, so my first visit to the base a couple of weeks ago felt familiar. And I wasn't surprised to learn CAFB partners with East Mississippi Community College on a program specially designed to make international spouses feel at home.
It's called the "listening" program. It allows international spouses to sit in on classes offered at EMCC's branch on base - but without the stress of having to take tests and complete homework assignments. The listening program is a way for overseas families to connect with people at their new U.S. duty station. 

This is important, because many of the student pilots being trained at Columbus AFB come from foreign countries. Louisa Gerber, wife of Col. David Gerber, 14th Flying Training Wing commander, told me over lunch that the United States trains military pilots from Japan, Italy, Singapore and Pakistan. I had no idea. As a matter of fact, 18 student pilots from Japan are going through the program right now - more than at any other time in the 14th Flying Training Wing's history. 

I visited with two ladies from Japan who have taken part in the listening program: Mayumi Yoshida, who is married to Maj. Seiji Yoshida, liaison between CAFB and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF); and Emi Matsuzaki, married to 1st Lt. Shu Matsuzaki, who is training at the base. 

Maj. Yoshida and Mayumi have been married 14 years. They met when the major's first assignment took him to Mayumi's hometown in northern Japan. Their sojourn in Columbus marks their third stateside tour; they've also been stationed in Florida and Texas. 

Mayumi has taken psychology and world geography through EMCC's listening program.
"I liked making friends, and the wives were very helpful," she said. "The instructors have been very nice. They loaned us textbooks and were very kind and patient." 

Emi Matsuzaki was a member of the JASDF, maintaining radar equipment and working in air traffic control, when she and her husband met. First Lt. Shu Matsuzaki visited Emi's base on an official trip; the two married in 2004. Emi has taken Spanish and world geography. 

"I took world geography in high school, but it's been forgotten. The classes help with your English skills and you can make friends," Emi said. "When I took world geography, we studied together at my friend's house, and I'm still in contact with her. I checked out DVDs about Europe from the library and I want to visit Belgium ..." 

At this point, her friend Mayumi can't help jumping in, " ... Yes, she does, to eat chocolate!" 

It's a comment that, like the listening program itself, crosses international borders and brings down the house with other women in the room - including Marleen Hansen of Columbus, the previous co-chairman of the Military Affairs Committee, and Linda Gates of EMCC, who serves on the Chief of Staff of the Air Force Action Group. 

Marleen and Linda stepped in when a similar listening program, offered by another educational institution, experienced changes. Marleen, known as the "mother hen" of the international pilot community, explained: "I called Linda and told her what was happening in November 2005. She called Dr. Rick Young, the president of EMCC, and Dr. Young said 'yes.' By January 2006, we had an international listening program up and running." 

Linda put her finger on why East Mississippi Community College feels so strongly about its connection to Columbus Air Force Base: "We don't approach the base as just a branch. There's a reverence in what we do. We realize we are supporting part of the U.S. mission - and the listening program is international relations on a personal level."
The fee for EMCC's listening program is $50 per class. If you are an international spouse, and want to take part, call Jackie Newton, director of the CAFB extension at 434-2564. 

(Editor's Note: Suzanne Monk is director of public information for East Mississippi Community College.)