Seven paratroopers naturalized before deployment to Iraq
August 28, 2009
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Days before boarding a plane bound for a war zone, seven Fort Bragg Paratroopers became U.S. citizens in a ceremony Aug. 13 that concluded an unusually-short, two-day naturalization process.
Six Soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division's 3rd Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment and one Soldier from 307th Brigade Support Battalion were sworn in as American citizens outside the squadron headquarters.
Jeffrey Sapko, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Raleigh-Durham Field Office and former cavalry Soldier, said his office completed the expedited naturalization process in record time as a way to give back to those who serve, especially to those who serve on a moment's notice.
"The goal of this unit is to deploy anywhere in the world to meet America's contingencies in 48 hours, and we feel (expediting the naturalization process) is the least we can do," said Sapko.
"Serving our military members is really something I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of," he said. "It gives me a way to give back."
In 2003, the U.S. Congress passed a regulation allowing service members to apply for expedited naturalization. The process can take 90 days to complete if no issues arise during a background check, said Sapko.
Pfc. Cristian Santana, a 19-year-old infantryman with 1st Platoon, Troop C, 3rd Sqdn., 73rd Cav. Regt., grew up on a border town in Mexico and immigrated with his Family to St. Louis eight years ago. He waited two years for his green card and, a week later, he joined the Army.
"It feels great to have the American flag on my uniform now that I'm a citizen," said Santana.
Pfc. Mario Garcia, a medic with Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 73 Cavalry Regiment, moved from Peru to Miami six years ago. The 21-year-old paratrooper joined the Army to advance his education.
"I want to study medicine in the States," said Garcia. "I'm proud to be a medic."
U.S. citizens may vote in federal elections, bring Family members to the United States and travel with a U.S. passport. They can also run for federal office, become eligible for federal grants and scholarships and obtain citizenship for children born abroad.
By the end of August, the seven newly-naturalized Soldiers will be deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom with 3,500 paratroopers from their brigade.