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JBSA assists naturalization applicants, welcomes new citizens

  • Published
  • By Lori A. Bultman
  • 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Becoming a U.S. citizen can be a lengthy and costly process, but for those serving in the U.S. military, the process may be much faster and have little to no expense under special provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. To hurry the process along at Joint Base San Antonio, Military and Family Readiness personnel work diligently to fast-track the process even further.

One day every month, military-affiliated persons can attend classes and interviews as part of the naturalization application process at the JBSA-Fort Sam Houston M&FRC. Then, in the afternoon, a ceremony is held to swear in and celebrate those recently approved for citizenship.

This month’s ceremony, held Feb. 22, welcomed 11 new citizens from eight different countries, according to Heejung Sackett, community readiness consultant at Joint Base San Antonio.

The ceremony began with patriotic music played by members of the 323rd Army Band. Then, officials from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spoke, emphasizing the benefits and responsibilities of American citizenship.

Once service members receive their naturalization certificate at the ceremony, they are American citizens, gaining a plethora of rights not offered to non-citizens. This includes the right to vote, the opportunity to petition for relatives to come to the United States, and Social Security Administration benefits.

The keynote speaker for the event was U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Nicole Reddick, 502nd Force Support Group, who recognized the difficult decision the applicants made to change citizenship.

“It means renouncing your former citizenships in other countries; it means swearing an allegiance to another country and accepting its values, beliefs, and way of life,” she said.

“The 11 service members, standing before you made that decision,” she said. “Their perseverance to obtain their citizenship while serving as an active duty service member is a testament to their commitment and dedication to the U.S…. a true act of patriotism.”

When service members are awarded citizen status, Sackett believes it is important for them to feel supported by their families as well as their teammates.

“I encourage supervisors, coworkers, and leaders to attend these ceremonies to support their service members,” she said. “Some have waited a lifetime for this achievement, and it is important for service members to know their leadership supports them and their wellbeing.”

While JBSA organizes the ceremony, it is the local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office that assists and interviews service members who wish to become naturalized, like U.S. Army Spc. Omaira Mills-Echeverria.

Mills-Echeverria, a nursing student at Joint Base San Antonio, completed the interview process during this month’s event. She was able to apply for citizenship with the assistance of her platoon sergeant and unit leadership.

“You don’t have to go outside of your military resources to get your citizenship. Everything is done for you,” she said. “They prepare your package for you, you send it, and wait for the interview. You don’t even have to break the bank. Most immigration fees can be waived for service members.”

Mills-Echeverria, who was born in Panama, said she was inspired by her father, who was a police officer, and other family members who were in the military. She said she appreciates the culture of the military now, but it will mean more to her in the future.  

“Even though you joined the military of a country that feels foreign to you, you are a part of it, but not quite. Now it’s going to have a different feeling,” she said. “Once you are naturalized, you are in the military of your country now. So now you feel a part of it. This is my Army, this is the Army of my country, so you don’t feel like an outsider anymore.”

U.S. Navy Seaman Recruit Dain Kim, who was born in South Korea and is now training to be a medic for the Marine Corps, received his citizenship during this month’s ceremony and is thankful for the opportunity to advance his military career.

“I think being a citizen gives you more opportunities,” he said, noting the limitations for non-citizens when it comes to military careers. “There are limited jobs you can get as a non-citizen. Now, I will have more opportunities.”

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Lloyd Anderson, previously a citizen of Guyana, took the Oath of Allegiance and received his certificate of naturalization at the ceremony as well.  

Anderson moved to the United States a few years ago with plans of joining the military and did not know service members could apply for expedited citizenship until he was restricted from certain assignments.

“I was going through the process of selecting bases, and I am not a citizen, so I was not eligible for certain bases, like overseas assignments,” he said. “So, I thought I could get my citizenship so I could serve overseas one day.

Anderson was thankful for the assistance he received, and the opportunities military service offers. 

“Today, I get to say I am an American citizen in the United States Air Force,” he said. “Not a lot of people get this opportunity, and not a lot of people take this opportunity.”

Since 2002, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has naturalized more than 158,000 U.S. service members through the Immigration and Nationality Act program, both at home and abroad, with 33,000 occurring in just the last five years.

Anyone interested in the military-affiliated naturalization process may inquire through their chain of command, contact the Military and Family Readiness Center, or go to: