Fort Bragg hero treasures American citizenship most
August 17, 2009
As a young child, Ulises Lopez watched his mother, Elvira, work multiple jobs to care for him and his two sisters.
It was a long struggle that began, Lopez said, when the Family emigrated from Mexico in 1987, the year he was born.
Lopez joined the Army in 2006, six years after obtaining legal residency.
Lopez said he took many factors into consideration before making the commitment.
"At the time, I looked at my Family, the economy, the place I was in life, my country and just a bunch of things," he said.
In February 2007, Lopez deployed to Afghanistan with Company A, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Five months into the tour, he was struck by enemy fire during a firefight in southern Afghanistan. The bullet pierced just above the collarbone, lodged in his back ribs and penetrated one of his lungs.
On the flight from Afghanistan to Germany, Lopez's condition became so unstable that the flight surgeon performed an open-heart massage to keep him alive, said Terry Spearman, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services liaison on Fort Bragg.
"If I was going to join the Army, I was going to go all the way," Lopez said. "I respect everyone else, but our main mission is to fight for our country and that's what I wanted to do."
Lopez said he lapsed into a coma and spent five months recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
He lost the lower lobe of this right lung, but he seemed to look at the glass as half-full rather than half-empty.
"It kind of reduced the weight a little bit and makes me run faster," he said jokingly.
Lopez rejoined his unit in Afghanistan after five months and was subsequently promoted to specialist. With the bullet still lodged in his back, he completed jump master school about four months after redeployment, said Spearman.
At 1:50 p.m., Friday, 7 Aug., Lopez, who has since been promoted to sergeant, took the oath of citizenship in Memorial Hall at the Soldier Support Center.
He was joined by 31 other persons, including Soldiers and Family members, in reciting the oath.
Jeffrey Sapko, field office director of USCIS's Durham office, administered the oath.
Josephine Mims, wife of Sgt. 1st Class Charles Mims, of the 34th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, also took the oath of allegiance Friday.
Charles said it was the culmination of months of work for Josephine, who is originally from the Philippines. She studied to answer citizenship questions about government and to identify various elected officials such as the governor and state representatives, he said.
"I'm very happy for her," he said. "She's been working a long time for it."
Lt. Col. David Oclander is Lopez's battalion commander. He said Lopez has inspired him.
"His example is an inspiration to everybody that knows him. You talk about selfless service, that's the perfect example," Oclander said. "It makes serving in the Army and the 82nd worth it everyday when you know you get to serve with guys like him."
Command Sgt. Maj. Greg Nowak agreed.
"He's an outstanding Soldier. He's a war hero," Nowak said.
Lopez said achieving citizenship was not something he considered when he joined the Army. He said he wanted to make his life easier, the same way his mother, whom he calls his hero, made his life easier.
Now, as a father of 1-year-old son, Dominic, Lopez said he wants to give his son the same opportunities or better than his mother gave him all those years ago.
"That's the whole point of the American dream," Lopez said. "It goes back to history. My mom didn't have anything and now she's a multiple-property owner. She started from nothing and now, that type of motivation and success is only possible in America, and I want to provide that for my son. I want to do that myself. I want to one day provide that as a proof to my son about what the bounty of this country offers if you actually work for it."
After taking the oath, tears welled in Lopez's eyes as he watched a video message from his president and commander-in-chief, Barack Obama.
"This is now officially your country," Obama said.
Obama spoke of the promise of America and the rich history of her immigrants.
"With the privilege of citizenship, though, comes great responsibilities," said Obama.
Pfc. Christian Araza, originally from the Philippines, waved an American flag as he watched the video.
A broad smile crossed his face.
"I'm so happy to finally become a U.S. citizen and I'm very grateful to this country," said Araza, who serves with the 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment.
Members of Lopez's unit stood in line to congratulate him after the ceremony.
Among them was 1st Lt. Timothy Dill, who said, "Sergeant Lopez has done amazing service for this country already, so I think he more than deserves to have citizenship. Without question, he is a hero."
Lopez received the Purple Heart for injuries suffered in battle and has been put in for other awards as well.
But, he said the awards do not matter as much as being able to continue to serve his country .
"This country gave so much for my Family, which we're not even from this country," Lopez said. "It's not that I feel obligated, it's that I feel privileged to serve my country. I love this country so much and I don't see myself doing anything else anytime soon. At the end of the day, I don't think there's any job that could make me more fulfilled.