By Lynn Kirby, USARECDecember 23, 2013
LOS ANGELES (Dec. 23, 2013) -- Recruiting in Los Angeles, Calif., the country's second largest city has its challenges, and when it comes to the many nuances of the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, those challenges increase. But with the ingenuity of a handful of key Soldiers, the Los Angeles Battalion finished fiscal year 2013 with the most MAVNI enlistments of any battalion in USAREC -- 121 enlistments to be exact.
Of course the nature of a metropolitan area provides the prime market for MAVNI recruiting, but the City of Angels alone is not the reason for the battalion's success. That success is attributed to the level of efficiency with which MAVNI packages are processed. According to Sgt. 1st Class Craig D. Stinson in battalion operations, the battalion can enlist a MAVNI applicant at an average of 25 days from first contact.
MAVNI offers non-citizens in the United States an expedited citizenship by enlisting in the Army.
The Koreatown Forward Engagement Center in Los Angeles processes a significant portion of those applicants especially for the Korean and Chinese languages, which are the languages with the highest volume of applicants for the battalion. Recruiters say gaining citizenship isn't the only reason international students living in Los Angeles on student visas join the Army through the MAVNI program.
"The most surprising motivator that we have noticed is that these individuals have a genuine desire to serve this nation that they have come to call home, and they truly wish to be a part of our great organization," said Sgt. 1st Class Dong H. Lim, a recruiter in the Koreatown Center.
The process starts by having dedicated recruiters in strategic centers throughout the city who are experienced with MAVNI enlistment packets. These recruiters have discovered that word of mouth travels fast in the MAVNI-eligible communities. Applicants will travel across the county, or even from other parts of the state or country in some cases, to meet with specific recruiters who were referred by name.
Staff Sgt. Trieu S. Ho, who works on the recruiting support team at Lakewood Center in Lakewood, Calif., says potential applicants follow various blogs and other online sites specific to the MAVNI program where the Lakewood Center is mentioned by name as the best place for MAVNI. "It feels good to be called the best," he said.
That reputation among the immigrant community is something in which the battalion takes pride.
"Knowing that we have applicants traveling from out of the area to meet with recruiters in the Los Angeles Battalion demonstrates the level of trust they have in our ability to take care of their needs, and it's important that the start of their Army career begins with that level of trust," said Battalion Commander Lt. Col. J. Scott Peterson.
Ho said processing a MAVNI applicant sometimes requires more than just an enlistment packet. Sometimes applicants don't have a social security number and need help applying, or they may have a degree from an international university and need their transcripts evaluated. The recruiting team helps the applicants with every step of the process, even those not directly related to recruiting. Ho said the most important thing is to make sure you have all the right paperwork in the packet the first time you submit it.
Once the recruiter portion of the packet is complete, it is forwarded to Stinson in battalion operations for quality control and further processing for USAREC submission to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Stinson was a recruiter in the Hawthorne, Calif., Center during the MAVNI program's inception in 2010. His experience processing packets as a recruiter has given him an advantage on the quality control side. Utilizing all the tools at his disposal, from spreadsheets to processes and a breadth of knowledge of all things MAVNI, Stinson is able to submit error-free applications to USAREC within three days of receipt. Once at USAREC, the packets are then submitted to USCIS for immigration status validation and approval, and then the applicant participates in an oral proficiency interview for language evaluation for final approval to proceed with enlistment.
The battalion has already enlisted 41 MAVNI applicants for fiscal year 14 and is awaiting additional allotments for Chinese and Korean applicants. Stinson already has a tracker of at least a dozen applicants ready to fill those slots when they are released. That tracker also includes interested applicants whose eligibility will not be met until later in the year, and in one instance, not until January 2015. Stinson is hopeful that the program will not go away anytime soon.