News: Dual citizen Soldiers deploy to Iraq
Story by Sgt. Elizabeth Gorenc
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — Many deployed Army National Guard units are a melting pot of Soldiers from different units, different parts of the state and sometimes different parts of the country.
Task Force 38 was no different during their Operation Iraqi Freedom deployment, but they took the melting pot idea even further. Four task force Soldiers not only held residency throughout the United States, but also held a dual citizenship throughout different countries.
The newest American citizen in Task Force 38, Spc. Soaimaile Vaitautolu, gained duality July 6 during the unit's mobilization training.
"I became a citizen to serve the country and represent," she said. "It's a good feeling to now represent the U.S. Army as a whole."
Originally from American Samoa, a U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean, Vaitautolu visited the United States as a child, and moved to the states in 2000 for college.
Vaitautolu, now a Franklin, Ind., resident relocated to Indiana after college to work at Camp Atterbury as an Army reservist. While living in Indiana, she re-enlisted into the Indiana National Guard, and began the process of becoming a U.S. citizen.
That process included an interview, a U.S. Constitution and government test, taking of fingerprints and finally swearing in as a citizen.
Another task force Soldier familiar with the citizenship process is Spc. Manthan Patel, a task force supply specialist who gained his dual citizenship May 5.
Originally from Mumbai, India, Patel immigrated with his family to the U.S. in 2006.
"I miss the country I was born in and spent my youth in, but there are a lot more opportunities for jobs and education in the U.S.," said Patel. "The dreams you dream in India are actually in grasp in the U.S."
Taking advantage of those opportunities, Patel joined the Indiana National Guard shortly after arriving in the states.
"I joined the military because I thought it would be a good learning experience and the training would be fun," he said.
Although dual citizenship was not necessary to become a Soldier, Patel became an American citizen to gain a security clearance for his Operation Iraqi Freedom deployment with Task Force 38.
Patel plans to visit his family and first country of residency throughout his rest and relaxation leave during the deployment.
"I feel special to have access to both countries," he said.
Much like Patel, Spc. Irina Muchler, born in the Ural region of Russia, was excited to take advantage of America's opportunities.
For Muchler, being a Soldier was a childhood dream she could not accomplish in Russia. By law, only males could join the Russian military. So she put her dream on hold.
She moved to the United States in 2002 after getting married. After she divorced, it was not until 2007 that Muchler focused on her dream of being a Soldier and joined the Indiana National Guard.
"I can't believe I'm in United States Army," she said. "For me to be U.S. Soldiers, it's like wow. It means so much."
Shortly after Muchler joined the military, she gained her citizenship in 2008 and became the first generation Russian-American in her family.
"I like American law and politics," she said. "I'm proud to be U.S. Army Soldier."
Muchler said her son plans to carry on what she started and join the U.S. military when he's older.
Just as Muchler's son plans to follow in her military footsteps, Task Force 38 human resources specialist, Spc. Michael Wagner, followed in his family's lifestyle when he joined the military.
Wagner was born in Offenbach, Germany, but moved to the U.S. in 1982 when his mother married a Soldier stationed overseas.
"I joined because my stepdad was in, and the benefits were good," said Wagner. "You get to travel and see different places, do different things and meet unique individuals.
Even though Wagner became a citizen in 1996, he said his family brought Germany with them when they moved to the states, and he upholds the duality of their citizenships in both countries.
"The whole family has traditional German meals, holidays, etc," he said. "But I feel like an American on the days I put on a uniform."
Wagner plans to maintain the German-American lifestyle by continuing his U.S. military career he started in 2003, but he plans to open an authentic German restaurant in Indianapolis when he returns from his deployment with Task Force 38.
Task Force 38's headquarters is based in Shelbyville, Ind., but the group of Soldiers who deployed together, came from multiple backgrounds, states and countries to form the melting-pot unit and serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom.