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Naturalized Chief Moved to Serve

Sailor paying success forward

As a child, Chief Hospital Corpsman Kleinne V. Lapid had a dream, a dream of freedom, of success, of service. She dreamed of joining the U.S. military.

There was only one problem: When Lapid first started imagining herself in a uniform, she didn't live in the United States, but in the Philippines. She went to school in Angeles City in Pampanga, located about 10 minutes away from the former Clark Air Base.

Tragedy struck in early 1991 when Mount Pinatubo erupted, destroying Lapid's home, and debilitating the "province's infrastructures and economic growth." Lapid and her family, as well as many friends and neighbors, lost everything but their memories.

"A part of my childhood is missing because our home got destroyed with all of our photos, so that's why I take a lot of photos now," Lapid said. "Photos are very important to me because of the ones I lost."

American service members came to their aid, and she never forgot.

"I was used to seeing Americans as a young child, but I did not fully understand what they did in our country," said Lapid, now a dental hygienist aboard USS Nimitz (CVN 68). "The Americans did everything to help my countrymen in relief and rescue operations. I was in awe of their selflessness and sacrifices. I can still remember clearly the events happening that day - big trucks here and there, men and women in camouflage uniforms, and the presence of hope amid the chaos. I knew right there and then - I wanted to join the military."

Inspired by efforts of the U.S. service members in the aftermath of Pinatubo, Lapid dreamed of what it would be like to go to America and serve. For eight years, the thought rested constantly on her mind, until opportunity finally came calling.

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"My dad made the sacrifice of going to the U.S. to get his citizenship, and eventually, we moved there," said Lapid. "I was 19 when we moved to San Diego. My parents always wanted a better life for my brothers and I .... They always put high quality education above everything else. My motivation was to have a better future for all of us."

Joining the U.S. military began to seem like more than just a dream. In order to enlist, a non-citizen must legally reside in the U.S. and possess an Immigration and Naturalization Service Alien Registration Card (better known as a green card); be between the ages of 17 and 35; meet the mental, moral and physical standards for enlistment; and be able to speak, read and write English fluently, according to the U.S. Navy.

Lapid met the standards, and joined the Navy two months after arriving in America, Sept. 27, 1999. Her older brother joined at the same time, and they went through boot camp together. In fact, Lapid has three brothers who are in the armed forces.

"I struggled with the physical aspect of boot camp," she remembered. "Having [my brother] there gave me the push to get through it. We were stationed together at [Naval Hospital] Okinawa, [Japan]. ... Being overseas with my brother ... helped me cope with homesickness.

"Having my brothers in the service seemed like my childhood, us outdoing each other," Lapid continued. "Who could pick up rank the fastest. Who can get more [qualifications] done and so on. We pushed each other to be better Sailors."

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As Lapid became a better Sailor and gained traction in her new career, she learned about the many opportunities afforded to her as a service member, one being the chance to obtain U.S. citizenship.

In fact, since Oct. 1, 2001, the Department of Defense has worked with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to naturalize more than 118,000 members of the U.S. armed forces.

"Back then, you had to wait three years from the day you joined before you could apply for citizenship," said Lapid. "I waited a bit longer because in my third year of service, I was in Basic X-ray School and had follow-on orders to Field Medical Service School, so I wasn't able to process my citizenship.

"I remember saving up for the fees and passport applications," she continued. "I asked the people from my command to help me fill out my application. I am forever grateful to those who took the time in assisting me."

Today, she's paying it forward by advising others going through the process.

"Becoming a U.S. citizen meant that even though I had been serving in the Navy for about four years at the time, it was finally official," said Lapid. "When I was offered the opportunity to help other Sailors, I signed up to assist them in getting their citizenship by reviewing their forms, and also to be there to provide additional information they'd need to complete the process. I know that obtaining their citizenship means a lot to them, just like it did to me."

Editor's Note: For more information on obtaining citizenship through the U.S. armed forces, visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. Also, click here to visit another story of a Sailor who gained their citizenship.