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Focus on Service

My Journey to Citizenship

A Sailor's path from boot camp to U.S. citizen

Afternoon strolls in the park have become a staple in our family and it's how we choose to enjoy the later days of spring. Watching the slow shuffling of the leaves, swayed by gentle winds, has a calming effect on us.

It seems that time has slowed down a little, and I'm enjoying every moment I spend with my loved ones. "Be careful Jacob!" my beautiful wife Cristina shouts, as we watch our oldest son run ahead of us while I carry my 5-month-old daughter, Juliana, in my arms.

Bringing my family here to the United States to live with me permanently is a privilege I am enjoying sooner than I could have ever imagined.

I moved from the Philippines to the U.S. in the spring of 2010 as a legal permanent resident. I had reluctantly left my almost 2-year-old son, Jacob, and his mother, my girlfriend at the time, behind in the Philippines to look for better opportunities here in the U.S. I wanted to live the American dream and I knew there would be a lot of struggles and trials while I pursued it. We knew from the very beginning that it would take a few years before my family and I would be reunited in the states and we would have to sacrifice a lot and learn to live with being separated for a very long time.

"Do you want to be a citizen?" My older sister asked me one night while I was cleaning and preparing dinner. I was staying with her temporarily until I got my own place and I helped around the house as much as I could as an expression of my gratitude.

"Yes I do, but it's going to take me awhile to be eligible to apply; besides I just got here," I said. She continued, "but I know some Filipino immigrants in California who became citizens within a year after they joined the military."

I could hardly contain my excitement as I eagerly asked her for more information.

We drove to the only military recruiting station in Charlottesville, Virginia, and met with Navy Chief Career Counselor Gregory Boone. He explained everything that I needed to know about joining the Navy and gave me all the necessary paperwork to help me begin my journey. He also helped us connect with the right point of contact (POC) to assist me with my application for citizenship. By August of 2010, I was in the Navy's delayed entry program and was set to ship out to Great Lakes, Illinois, for boot camp in March 2011.

As a legal permanent resident in the United States, I was eligible to apply for naturalization after five years of consecutive physical presence in the continental U.S. Normally, these fees are paid out of pocket. Since I applied for expedited naturalization through active-duty service, the fees were waived and I discovered that the process is faster base because of Executive Order 13269, which was signed by President George W. Bush in 2002. This order allows expedited naturalization for aliens and non-citizen nationals serving in an active-duty status beginning Sept. 11, 2001.
Three photo collage of Sailors participating in naturalization ceremonies.

After finishing boot camp, I transferred to the Training Support Center on base to attend my "A" school. While waiting for class to start, our United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) liaison informed some of the citizenship applicants that we needed to go to USCIS Application Support Center for biometric processing.

How did I miss that? Did I not hear my recruit division commander's announcement to take care of my citizenship papers? Or maybe I was too busy trying to get through basic training. Either way, I was not included among my fellow recruits who had taken the oath of allegiance to become naturalized citizens after graduation from boot camp. I had completed and submitted my application for naturalization and my certificate of military service sometime during boot camp. Although I sent all required paperwork to a citizenship POC in the Regional Legal Service Office, I was still waiting for my application process to go through. Hopefully after I finished my appointment for biometric processing I would hear a response from USCIS and move forward to the interview and finally take my oath of allegiance.

After graduating from "A" school, I still had not received any notice concerning my citizenship application. I had updated my mailing address before I reported to my first command. The amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21), homeported in Norfolk, Virginia, was a newly commissioned ship when I checked aboard. Dressed in my summer dress whites with a sea bag in my left hand, I stood at attention.

"Request permission to come aboard!" I proudly said to officer of the deck.

He inspected me before allowing me to pass the brow. I met with my sponsor who helped me settle in and adjust to the ship. During my check-in process, I asked around to see if there was someone on the ship that could help me follow-up on my application.

That's when I discovered the assistant first lieutenant (AFL), of deck department was also the legal officer of the ship. She helped me get in contact with the Regional Legal Service Office in Norfolk. During my first month on board, I received a reply from the USCIS Norfolk field office and was given a date for my interview.

When I entered the room, I tried to control my breathing and look calm. I answered all the questions to the best of my knowledge and hoped that I passed. She asked question after question without hinting to me whether or not I answered correctly. Still oblivious if I had failed or not, she asked me when I wanted take my oath of allegiance.

I had passed!

Although I went through a lot of ups and downs during the process, none of it compares to everything I enjoy now, especially small things that some people may take for granted.

"Take a shower Jacob before we eat dinner," my wife said to our son, when we got home from the park. I placed Juliana in her playpen and arranged some toys for her to play with. I went to the kitchen and helped my wife set the table and prepare our dinner. Steamed white rice, pork adobo and sauteed vegetables were on the menu. Sitting around the table, holding hands, we bowed our heads and said grace.

Every moment I spend with my family is my prized treasure. It is one of the many privileges that my citizenship has afforded me.

For more information on the Navy's naturalization program, visit the Judge Advocate General Corps' website.

Infographic on naturalization. Facts listed at the end of the story.

Facts about service members and family becoming U.S. citizens

On July 3, 2002, the President signed an executive order authorizing all noncitizens who have served honorably in the U.S. armed forces on or after Sept. 11, 2001, to immediately file for citizenship

Since Oct. 1, 2001, there have been 109,321 members of the military who became citizens

11,069 service members had their naturalization ceremony in a foreign country

Places where U.S. naturalization ceremonies have been held include: Afghanistan, Albania, Australia, Bahrain, China (Hong Kong), Cuba (Guantanamo), Djibouti, El Salvador, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Haiti, Honduras, Iceland, Iraq, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Korea, Kosovo, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Mexico, the Philippines, Qatar, South Korea, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.

Since F-Y 2008, 2,650 military spouses have gained citizenship

Since F-Y 2009, 106 children of military members have gained citizenship

NOTE: Statistics shown through Fiscal Year 2015