News: Troopers go from Green to Red, White and Blue:
Combined Joint Task Force-82
FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, Afghanistan – As service members depart the U.S. for Iraq or Afghanistan, it is often said these brave men and women are leaving to serve their country.
Simplistic as it may sound, that statement casts a shadow on the fact that there are service members deployed to combat zones and risking their lives on the battlefield who cannot technically call the U.S. "their" country, because they are not American citizens.
This is the case for Spc. Juan J. Medel, an infantryman with Company C, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, who has lived in the U.S. for over a decade, served in the Army for almost three years and is now deployed to Afghanistan. Although he is a proud member of the Army, he is not a legal citizen.
"I heard the process of becoming a citizen was easier if you were in the military, and as soon as the first opportunity came up, I jumped on it," Medel said about his decision to finally pursue his citizenship after 14 years of living in the U.S. as a legal, permanent resident.
Like Medel, many foreign nationals live in the U.S. as permanent residents, a designation that allows them to live and work in the country but without certain rights and privileges given to legal citizens, such as the right to vote in national elections.
In order to gain these rights, individuals must apply for naturalization to become a citizen of the U.S.
For deployed Soldiers, the naturalization process is indeed simplified and expedited, said Army Cpl. James E. Marcum, paralegal non-commissioned officer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 782nd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th BCT.
"There's normally a permanent residency requirement that is waived because of your military service," Marcum explained. "Also, while you are deployed, your packet is put to the front of the line."
This means the normal naturalization procedure, which may take years, can be completed in as little as four months. Interested Soldiers should know the process does involve paperwork and several legal documents, Marcum said.
"It's fairly easy, but you do have to go back five years for employment, schools, and residency," he said. "The hard thing is marriage certificates and birth certificates for children."
Since it is unlikely that deployed Soldiers will have these essential documents, Marcum recommends having family and friends send copies. Unit legal representatives are able to provide requirements as to the exact information needed for each individual Soldier.
Handling the paperwork is not complicated, and leaders at all levels should encourage their non-citizen troopers to go forward with the process, said Army 1st Lt. Alan M. LeFebvre, a platoon leader with Co. C, 2-508th PIR, who helped Medel in his efforts to become a citizen. Even those who have never dealt with the issue before will be able to successfully complete the steps due to the simplicity of the naturalization process for deployed Soldiers.
"I didn't know a lot about it either, but other leaders stressed its importance to me," he said. "It was really easy. There are some requirements but it's definitely something [commanders] should encourage."
The Army provides workshops in combat zones where units can send Soldiers to fill out the required paperwork free of charge. In fact, the entire process can be completed without a single financial cost to the trooper, Medel said.
Medel hopes to become an official citizen by November. He has completed the paperwork but still needs to pass a citizenship examination that will test his knowledge of American history and government.
Soldiers should realize there is no drawback to taking the time to apply for naturalization, while the increased rights given to citizens are notable, Medel said.
By becoming a citizen, doors are opened inside and outside the military, in terms of jobs, benefits and opportunities. Medel hopes to parlay his citizenship into a career in aviation, a career field that often has a prerequisite of being a U.S. citizen.
"He's a good Soldier, risking his life and doing more for [the U.S.] than a lot of people do day-to-day," LeFebrvre said. "He should be given the opportunity to be a citizen."
For Marcum, helping in the naturalization process is a rewarding experience, and one that recognizes the hard work and efforts of patriots. Soldiers across the Army who have not yet gained their citizenship should be aware of the advantage and ease of obtaining citizenship while deployed.
Again, visiting your unit legal representative is priority number one to make sure the process goes smoothly and troopers receive the right to call the U.S. "their" home, Marcum said.
"They should absolutely take advantage of this," he said. "They are serving their country and they should be given the opportunity above anybody else."