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Serving our country: the journey to citizenship

Airmen from the 344 Training Squadron display their immigration packet upon completing the Oath of Allegiance at JBSA-Lackland on Aug. 30.

Airmen from the 344 Training Squadron display their immigration packet upon completing the Oath of Allegiance at JBSA-Lackland on Aug. 30.

Airmen from the 344 Training Squadron display their immigration packet upon completing the Oath of Allegiance at JBSA-Lackland on Aug. 30.

Airmen from the 344 Training Squadron display their immigration packet upon completing the Oath of Allegiance at JBSA-Lackland on Aug. 30.

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas --

On Sunday, September 17 the Department of Defense commemorated Constitution Day and Citizenship Day and will observe Constitution Week from September 17 through September 23.

 

These observances allow members to reflect on the effort and sacrifices of our Founders as they established this country based on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. These documents have lasted the test of time and continue to serve as the foundation of our country.

 

But for the 344 Training Squadron, the ideals of the Constitution and Citizenship are at the forefront of their mission every day.

 

Eric Holman is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services military liaison to JBSA-Lackland. He is responsible for helping basic military trainees complete the naturalization process and administering the Oath of Allegiance at BMT graduation and technical training.   

 

The USCIS established the Naturalization at Basic Training Initiative in August 2009 to give non-citizen enlistees the opportunity to naturalize when they graduate from basic training.

 

“Here at the 344 TRS, we complete the process that, for some, was started but not finished in BMT,” Holman said. “Even though the process is expedited, it is still lengthy and may not be finished before they graduate.”

 

Previously, military members who wished to gain citizenship had to have three years of residency and serve in the military for two years. While the process length can vary based on age, number of moves and name changes, on average the expedited process takes six weeks.

 

But while the process might be expedited, the security checks are no less rigorous.

 

“The 344 TRS and the USCIS have partnered to ensure all security requirements are met and completed,” said Tech. Sgt. Joseph Phair, 344 TRS unit security manager. “These trainees and Airmen have several background checks going on at the same time. Homeland Security, Department of Defense and the FBI are all conducting background checks simultaneously.”

 

The 344 TRS has received Airmen with a variety of backgrounds who have chosen service in the military as their path to citizenship.

 

“We’ve had Airmen who are in refugee status, those who are seeking asylum, those born here but their parents were not and those who have chosen to become legal citizens by serving in the military,” Phair said. “We’ve also had those who have joined and have experienced severe hardship in other countries and they have chosen the Air Force as a way to improve their life and their families’ lives.”

 

Airman Mayra Garcia-Romero was naturalized with her family in 2014 but, through a clerical error, never received her certificate of citizenship. When she arrived at BMT, she was unaware of the long process that lay ahead.

 

“I was told I would have no issues because I was already a citizen but when I started technical training, I was told I needed to start the process to get my certificate,” said Garcia-Romero. “I graduated BMT in November 2016 and just finished the process in August 2017.”

 

While it was hard to be stuck in a holding pattern, Garcia-Romero says she feels happy knowing the wait is over.

 

“I really wanted to do something greater with my life than just going to college and taking the normal path so I decided to serve in the military,” said Garcia-Romero. “I had chosen to serve in the military before I knew there was a problem with my certificate so I’m happy to be able to move forward in that career.” 

 

Phair says he takes pride in his position at the 344th because he gets to help these new Airmen become citizens.

 

“These Airmen have a lot of pride and they really go the extra mile,” Phair said. “They are motivated performers and often our top performers because they are making the conscious decision to improve their lives. Nothing has been handed to these Airmen; they’ve had to work extremely hard to get to this point. Without them, the Air Force loses a significant capability.”