By Capt. Jean Marie Kratzer | New York National GuardMarch 7, 2019
ALBANY, N.Y. - When New York National Guard Pfc. Tiffany Joseph, originally from Grenada, and Spc. Ibrahim Bakayoko, who comes from Ivory Coast, became American citizens on Feb. 15, they became just the latest in a long line of New York Army National Guard Soldiers who weren't born as Americans.
Of the almost 10,000 Soldiers in the New York Army National Guard, 960 are naturalized citizens. Another 515 are legal residents commonly known as green card holders.
New York has always been a magnet for immigrants, and they've always found a home in the New York National Guard.
The famous 69th Infantry Regiment was initially filled with Irish Catholics who fought for the Union during the Civil War.
The ranks of the 369th Infantry -- the African-American regiment made famous as the Harlem Hell Fighters -- included members hailing from Jamaica and Trinidad and other Caribbean islands, according to enlistment cards from the 1920s and 1930s.
In 2018, New York Army National Guard Pfc. Emmanuel Mensah, an immigrant from Ghana, received the Soldiers Medal, the Army's highest award for non-battle heroism, posthumously for saving four people from a massive fire on Dec. 28, 2017.
"He fulfilled his dream, what he wanted to do," said Kwabena Mensah, the Soldier's father. "He was proud of being in the American military. He was so proud of that."
Today, joining the Army National Guard can smooth the way to American citizenship for immigrants who are willing to serve, said Sgt. Maj. Jeffery Colling, the operations sergeant major for the New York Army National Guard's Recruiting and Retention Battalion.
"As a civilian, it was difficult to go through the naturalization process, but joining the military made it much easier and quicker," said Joseph, a member of Company E, 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation.
Joseph and Bakayoko were among 49 new Americans who took their Oath of Citizenship on Feb. 15 before Daniel Stewart, the United States Magistrate Judge for the Northern District of New York in Albany.
During the ceremony, both Soldiers recited the Pledge of Allegiance, repeated the Oath of Citizenship and joined in singing the "Star Spangled Banner."
At the end of the ceremony, each Soldier proudly held their certificate of citizenship.
According to the National Guard Bureau Strength Maintenance Division, lawful permanent residents who enlist in the Guard are exempt from some naturalization requirements.
To qualify, the green card holder must complete both basic and advanced individual training, serve for a year of "honorable service," have no legal or disciplinary action pending, and pass a background investigation.
The usual process for gaining U.S. citizenship requires establishing a five-year continuous legal residency in the United States after the applicant has become a permanent legal resident. Joining the military --which includes the National Guard-- can shorten this period by two years.
Joseph, a Loundonville, New York, resident, arrived in New York at age 12 in 2010. She joined the New York Army National Guard in December 2016 as an automatic logistics specialist.
In March 2018 she went to work full time in the New York National Guard Headquarters information office.
"My mother and I came to the United States for a better job and school opportunities," she said. "Then I had the opportunity to join the United States Army. My family is so proud of me."
Military service is a family tradition, Joseph said, as her grandmother served in Grenada's military for more than 30 years.
Despite the early challenges anyone faces moving to a new country, she is very proud of being an American citizen, and she said that it is her honor to serve the United States.
Bakayoko, an Albany resident, who grew up in the city of Abidjan, is a truck driver in the 1427th Transportation Company. A part-time Soldier, during the week he works for the Salvation Army as a truck driver and also works at a hotel as a cook.
"I am proud of myself, and I love being in the National Guard. The process to get my citizenship took one year and seven months, but it's all been worth it," Bakayoko said.