FORT CARSON, Colo.- "That dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement," James Truslow Adams wrote in "The Epic of America."
Pfc. Patrick Berger, combat engineer, Company B, 299th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, experienced his own journey to realize the American dream and become a citizen.
"I started out having a pretty normal life; I grew up in Switzerland," said Berger. "I have a big family with three sisters and one brother."
Berger, who attended kindergarten and elementary school in Basel, Switzerland, said he was drawn to America at an early age.
"We vacationed in the United States a couples times when I was a kid and my parents really liked it here," said Berger.
After his father received a job offer from an American company in 1999, his family moved to Miami with his father's temporary work visa. After two years, the company went bankrupt and the Bergers were forced to move back to Switzerland.
"It had a big impact [on us] because we really enjoyed it in Miami," said Berger. "The weather is really nice and it's always sunny. Then we were back in Switzerland where it's snowing seven months out of the year."
Berger said his yearned to return to Miami, so his father formed his own company with a business partner, received a new work visa and his family moved back in 2006.
Berger finished high school in 2009 and began pursuing an associate degree in professional pilot technology at Miami Dade College.
He said life was great until his father's work visa renewal was denied and his family was given three months to leave America. His parents had to sell their house, cars and move back to Switzerland.
"I built up my life here and then I was stuck back in a country where I could barely speak the language," said Berger.
His parents decided to send him back to America so he could finish his college education.
"Luckily I was granted a student visa to come back to the United States," said Berger.
Berger returned to Miami by himself at age 19. He moved into a small apartment and tried to finish his degree.
Unable to have a job because of his student visa, Berger struggled with the cost of living and the extra tuition cost that international students must pay. Eventually, he lost his legal status when he couldn't afford the amount of classes required in a semester by his student visa.
"I was worried," said Berger. "I thought that if I go back to my country, I'm never going to have a chance to come here again."
Berger said he felt it was time to come clean with his girlfriend Mayra, who gave him the second chance that he needed.
"When I told her that I'm about to be homeless, she talked to her family and they took me in," said Berger. "I was just glad to have food and a roof over my head."
After dating for six months, Berger said he followed his heart and proposed.
"She was in shock, but her parents were really cool about it," said Berger.
Mayra said, yes. After eight months and a lot of paperwork, Berger received permanent residency in the United States.
"Finally I was legal, had my permanent residency and got my social security number. I was able to work, went back to school and finished my degree," said Berger.
He used his degree to obtain a job as a flight instructor in Miami. After a year, he said he became bored with his job.
"I've always wanted to fly for the military," said Berger.
Berger's family has served in the military for generations because military service is mandatory at the age of 18 in Switzerland. He said as a child he was always in awe whenever he saw jets streaking across the sky.
After visiting a recruiting station for each branch of the U.S. military, Berger said he decided to join the Army and planned on becoming a warrant officer so he could fly helicopters. He said it took a couple months to convince his wife.
Berger enlisted as a combat engineer and left for Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, Dec. 31, 2013. to begin basic training. He was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado, in April 2014.
"I remember him looking scared when he first got here," said Spc. Jonathan Hall, combat engineer, Company B, 299th BEB, 1st SBCT, 4th Inf. Div. "He turned out to be a great worker; better than the other new guys we had coming in."
Berger was awarded U.S citizenship July 17, 2014 after passing the American civics test and enduring a stressful interview. Commanding General Maj. Gen. Paul LaCamera, 4th Inf. Div. and Joint Task Force Carson, presented him a certificate of achievement at a naturalization ceremony Sept. 18, 2014.
"People from other countries are wearing this uniform and going to combat," said Sgt. 1st Class Steven Gonzalez, platoon sergeant, Company B, 299th BEB, 1st SBCT, 4th Inf. Div., who said his parents went through a similar experience to obtain their naturalization in the 1960s. "It makes me appreciate those Soldiers even more."
Berger began the long process to bring his family back to America from Switzerland and said that none of this would have been possible without his wife's support.
"It's been an interesting ride but I wouldn't go back because I love this country," said Berger. "When my family first came here I really appreciated the love people have for this country. You see American flags flying outside everywhere and the military isn't mandatory because there's people brave enough to enlist because they want to defend this country. I wanted to be a part of that."