NEW YORK, N.Y. (Army News Service, April 2, 2009) -- In the center of Times Square, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. swore 32 recruits into the service Wednesday, and half of them enlisted through a new program for non-citizens with special skills.

The group included 16 recruits who are part of the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, or MAVNI program. MAVNI seeks to give individuals from other countries the opportunity to gain citizenship through joining the U.S. Army.

MAVNI allows non-resident aliens with special skills who are legally in the United States to enlist in the Army. (Resident aliens - persons with green cards - have previously been able to join.) The MAVNI pilot program began Feb. 23 and continues until Dec. 31.

The pilot program allows men and women with essential language, cultural or technical skills to enlist and possibly gain U.S. citizenship. Although many skill sets are being sought, the majority of recruits under the program thus far possess medical or language skills.

The New York City Recruiting Battalion is conducting the pilot program for MAVNI and has authority to enlist applicants under the program's strict guidelines. These guidelines include being in legal immigration status, scoring in the upper half of the Army's qualification test and meeting the Army's height and weight standards.

The MAVNI program has enlisted 52 individuals so far and has more than 2,000 interested applicants.

"The actions of these men and women epitomize the spirit the President called for in his inaugural address," Gen. Casey said at the Times Square recruiting station.

President Barack Obama spoke of military members being the "Guardians of our liberty (and those who) embody the spirit of service: a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves."