By Beverly Joyner, Fort Eustis Staff WriterMay 20, 2009
FORT EUSTIS, Va. (May 20. 2009) -- The Obama administration's first naturalized U.S. citizen swearing-in ceremony for active-duty service members featured a Fort Eustis Advanced Individual Training student with the 1-222nd Aviation Regiment, U.S. Army Aviation Logistics School.
Pfc. Oswald Essel, an Alpha Company student training to become an armament/electrical/avionics repairer, became a naturalized U.S. citizen May 1 during a ceremony at the White House. He was sworn in with other active-duty service members.
Naturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is conferred upon a foreign citizen or national after he fulfills the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act. Recent changes to the INA make it easier for qualified military personnel to become U.S. citizens if they choose to file a naturalization application, according to the Web site www.uscis.gov.
Essel was born in Ghana, West Africa. In 2004, he was attending a university in Ghana and majoring in geodetic engineering when he traveled to a National Society of Black Engineers convention in Austin, Texas. He met a professor at the convention who told him that if he wanted to get a job in the U.S., he could transfer his credits and apply to a college here.
Essel, the first one in his family to attend college, returned to Ghana and discussed it with his family. Despite the difficulties in obtaining a visa, Essel was approved for a one-year visa that allowed him to visit the U.S., and he initially stayed with an uncle who lives in New York.
The high cost of living and lack of employment opportunities led Essel to move to Greensboro, NC in 2005 to live with a friend of his brother. He was accepted to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and met his future wife who was attending another college.
During this time, Essel's application to become a permanent citizen was approved for a two-year period. Seeking a better paying job and remembering his father's words of how "many people have died in order for us to enjoy the freedoms we're enjoying today," Essel spoke with an Air Force recruiter who informed him that he had to be a citizen to join. An Army recruiter suggested the aviation field as a means of realizing his dreams of becoming a pilot one day.
Essel enlisted in the Army in September 2008 and arrived to Fort Eustis in November 2008. Once he realized that U.S. citizenship is required to become a military officer, he applied for naturalized citizenship. During the citizenship interview in Norfolk, Essel was informed by immigration officials that he was selected to be sworn in with other active-duty service members at a ceremony at the White House in May.
Due to the short notice and the fact that Essel was still in training, it was initially thought that he would not be able to make the trip. He was disappointed and was resigned to not going; however, once 1-222nd Aviation Regiment Commander Lt. Col. Christopher Brewer found out about the event, Essel was given permission to attend the ceremony. Staff Sgt. Brandon Blackmon, 1-222nd Avn. Regt. operations sergeant, accompanied Essel to the White House; Brewer also gave Essel a commander's coin to give to President Obama. "The ceremony is something that I will remember forever," said Essel. "To be in the same room with the President of the United States and shake his hand - it was a beautiful feeling."
Essel graduated Wednesday and will be stationed at Camp Humphreys, South Korea.