Army Reserve Spc. Eliud Aleman moved to San Antonio, Texas, three days before Sept. 11, 2001. The terrorist attacks planted a deep commitment in Aleman’s heart to serve his new country.
“It was a shock,” he said of the attacks. “I took it real personal because it was my new home.”
Aleman came from Mexico so he couldn’t join the military right away. Therefore, every war or natural disaster increased Aleman’s passion to do something beneficial.
He joined the Army Reserve in 2020 as a mechanic with resident status. In February, he finally earned his citizenship, crying in uniform at a Department of Homeland Security office.
“I felt so much joy and relief to be able to give my hundred percent to the nation,” said Aleman, who serves with the 980th Engineering Battalion FSC.
Spc. Rolando Serrano, an El Salvador native, also attained citizenship as an Army reservist.
“The reason I enlisted in the first place was because of all the things I have,” the Arkansas resident said. “The country has so many things to offer.”
Serrano graduated college in 2018 and received permanent resident status two years later. He joined the Army Reserve in 2020 and started seeking citizenship in March 2021.
The process for Serrano and Aleman started with personnel administrators and the chain of command. They completed paperwork before leadership certified their military service, added remarks and signed the documents.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires that applications include Form N-426 and N-400. Those who separated from the military need a DD-214 or NGB form 22.
Applicants then send their packet to DHS, after which they are interviewed about tax returns, resident status and employment. Every applicant must take a civics test.
A member of the 340th Chemical Company out of Houston, Serrano won’t forget his October 2021 ceremony at the DHS office because of the small U.S. flag he received.
“I still have it with me,” he said. “It’s a good reminder.”
Serrano said he recognizes people need encouragement to attain citizenship because he’s met people scared of laws or discouraged by the work.
But helping people work through such fears or misconceptions is what motivates Army Reserve Spc. Cesar Vargas, who came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 5 years old.
Vargas, who is the senior adviser to the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, enlisted the same day in 2019 that he received his green card. But earning his citizenship took three tries due to lost or misdirected paperwork, misunderstandings about the correctness of his forms and multiple security interviews.
“It’s daunting in itself,” the law school graduate said.
Both Vargas and Serrano encouraged people who feel some stigma or have concerns to reach out to military personnel and civilians. Vargas said the intersection of military processes and citizenship law is a complex, highly specialized sector.
“There’s people who can point you in the right direction,” he said. “Keep asking. The answer will always be no if you don’t ask.”
Aleman said his sergeant was helpful with his questions. Plus, the library on base included access to printers and the DHS website to upload completed applications.
USCIS also has a web page devoted to naturalization through military service and a list of civilians and civilian entities that help with naturalization services. Many military installations have a USCIS representative available to help with the process as well.
For Serrano, the path and responsibilities of becoming and being a citizen didn’t discourage him. He received the help he needed and he’s ready to repay the goodness and trust shown to him.
“I love this country, I love my family, I love [the] things that I’ve been given,” he said. “In my case, I think [citizenship] was worth it because I’m actually fully committed to who I am and what I want do here where I live. I’m very much committed to being someone who gives service to my community.”
Likewise, Aleman recommends citizenship through military service because of the rights a person gains. But, more than that, he has a deeper appreciation for the particular rewards of joining the Army.
“Joining through military service means you can really taste what it feels like to be an American,” he said.Read comments