By Pfc. Justin Naylor, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public AffairsApril 28, 2009
FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, Kirkuk, Iraq-"Serving your country is an honorable profession," said Maj. Robert Blackmon, the Staff Judge Advocate of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. "But to serve a country without being a citizen of that country is really admirable."
For 20 Soldiers in the 2nd "Black Jack" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, citizenship is coming closer to reality thanks to a citizenship clinic which took place on Forward Operating Base Warrior April 16.
A citizenship clinic helps by providing the necessary paperwork and legal expertise necessary to process becoming a U.S. citizen.
"I've never made it this far before," said Sgt. Kerbin Castillo, a Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, native and a combat engineer for Company E, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd BCT.
According to Castillo, he tried on several occasions to become a citizen, but because of the busy schedule of a deployment, was unable to get the necessary paperwork completed.
The legal team that is helping us now has made it very easy to complete the paperwork and get everything in order to apply for our citizenship, said Castillo.
"I've been in the Army too long to not be a citizen," explained Castillo. "I have a really good feeling that I will finish the process and become a citizen this time."
Each Soldiers' story of the path to citizenship is unique.
"I grew up in the U.S.," said Pfc. Mark Pablo, a Manila, Philippines, native and an artilleryman for Battery B, 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd BCT, who has lived in the U.S. for nearly 15 years and has two children in the U.S. who are both citizens. "It is my country."
For Pfc. Efrain Meza, a Arequipa, Peru, native and a food service specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd BCT, joining the Army and becoming a citizen runs in the family.
"All of my family members are citizens," explained Meza. "My youngest sister is in the Army, and my older sister was in the Army, and they are both citizens now. We are an Army family."
The need for a Soldier to have a voice in government can be especially important because it determines issues such as professional development and future military operations around the world.
I am overseas fighting for my country, and right now, I cannot even vote, said Castillo. Becoming a citizen will let me help determine the course of the future of my country and the Army.
For Soldiers that haven't tried to apply for citizenship yet, there are a few things they may need to know.
"You can only serve two enlistments in the Army if you are not a citizen," said Pfc. Alan Fisher, a San Antonio, Texas, native and a paralegal for 2nd BCT.
Without citizenship, Soldiers are ineligible for a security clearance, which limits Army job possibilities, including one day becoming an officer.
"Becoming a citizen gives Soldiers vested interest in the Army," said Maj. James Wherry, a Fairbanks, Alaska, native and the chief of the rule of law for Forward Operating Base Warriors Provincial Reconstruction Team.
The servicemembers have already made the decision to wear the uniform and serve in the U.S. Army, but they cannot advance very far without gaining their citizenship, said Wherry.
We pave the way for them to become citizens by helping guide them through the process, and the servicemembers don't have to pay for any of it, explained Wherry.
Soldiers should also know the process of becoming a citizen is expedited while they are deployed and could be finished in as little as three months.
According to Wherry, after this group's paperwork has been approved, they will travel to Baghdad, Iraq, where they will be interviewed and tested on their knowledge of the U.S. If they pass, they will be sworn in by judges and will be officially recognized as U.S. citizens.
For Soldiers that want to prepare for the test and interview, they can find study guides and practice tests at www.uscis.gov.
Deployed Soldiers interested in pursuing their U.S. citizenship should contact their legal assistance office or their personnel sections to find out more information and learn of upcoming citizenship clinics that will help expedite the process of application.