For about 16 Fort Riley Soldiers, April 28 marks a turning point in their lives. That is the day they became citizens of the country they have already sworn to protect. They come from Ghana, the Dominican Republic, Morocco, Guatemala and other nations.
For each of them, it was a long journey measured in more than just miles. The applicants had to study and test their knowledge about the United States before getting to the citizenship ceremony.
“We had to study about the history of the country,” said Pvt. 1st Class Emmanuel Cudjoe, a tanker with 2nd battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. “It was pretty tough but we made it through. It’s doable.”
Not only did Cudjoe say his journey from Ghana to a U.S. citizen in Kansas was doable, but the studying also benefitted him.
“There was a lot I didn’t know about the country,” he said. “Through this whole process, I was able to know about it.”
Soldiers seeking assistance with the naturalization process have help with that part of the journey. The Fort Riley staff judge advocate office on Custer Avenue will walk the applicants through the paperwork.
“All you’ve got to do is go there, they’ll walk you through the forms that you need, the paperwork and everything,” Cudjoe said. “It’s not hard. Once you have the right person to talk to, everything will move smoothly.”
“For the interview I was nervous, I didn’t know what they were going to ask,” said Spc. Samuel Anane, also with 2nd Bn., 34th Armor Regt., 1st ABCT, 1st Inf. Div. “It was a little intimidating. I was nervous when I got in there. But once you study and understand the kind of questions to expect, you should be ok.”
Cudjoe and Anane both came to the U.S. from Ghana and have been in the Army for about 18 months.
Another new citizen is Specialist Gordon Akim Smith from 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div. For Smith, this ceremony was the culmination of a journey that took years to complete. It wasn’t until he joined the Army though, that the process reached a conclusion.
Smith said he was born and raised in Georgetown, Guyana, and moved to the United States in 2017. He began the process with his recruiter but wasn’t able to complete it until he reached Fort Riley. He had to wait through Army Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training. And because he had friends who had completed the process, they could steer him in the right direction.
“I went up the chain of command and the processes here was smooth,” said Smith. “I’m thankful, I’m happy, I’m proud to be a United States Citizen.”
Smith also doesn’t look at gaining citizenship as a one-sided relationship. He feels he has plenty to bring to his new nation.
“I’m a hard worker,” Smith said. “When I have goals, when I set goals, I work toward my goals. I feel like I have more opportunities in the United States …. Because back in a third-world country there are not much (in the way of) opportunities given to you in terms of education. Being here is a greater opportunity for me to elevate myself in life.”
For Smith, becoming a citizen means there is an element of service within his life goals now.
“I want to make the military a career,” Smith said. “I want to serve my country first before I serve my community. I want to study telecommunications because I have a background in radio and electronics … that’s my goals as of now.”
For Specialist Ahmed Amine Bennani, an emergency room medic at Irwin Army Community Hospital, it was a long process, one that he and his wife, Veronica Godinez, shared.
Godinez is from Guatemala. Bennani is from Morocco. The two met and married in Boston. Godinez is also a naturalized citizen and, four years ago, was the first in the family to go through the process. She was the one to help Bennani with the extensive paperwork. For both of them, today’s ceremony for Bennani’s citizenship was a confirmation of belonging to this country.
As for Bennani, he’s thankful for Godinez’s support through the long process.
“There’s too much work, too much paperwork,” Bennani said. “I was lucky enough to have her support me with all of that as I – I suck at paperwork.”
The couple explained that the paperwork and the waiting between traditional mail correspondences is more than a little nerve-wracking. Each time they would get a letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, they would worry about what was inside, what was being asked of them next.
For Godinez, her husband’s citizenship ceremony is validation for her feelings about her husband and a start to their life as an American couple.
“I’m very happy,” said Godinez. “Sometimes when you are from another country, you feel this is your country. This is like them telling you, ‘Yes, this is your country’ and no one can let you go. He’s fighting for his country, working for his country, facing everything for his country, because this is his country now. And now he can say proudly, ‘I am American.’”
Those needing assistance with the application for citizenship can call the Fort Riley Staff Judge Advocate legal assistance office at 239-3117 to make an appointment.