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The gift of citizenship through service

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Seth Haddix
  • 2nd Audiovisual Squadron

According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, in the last five years, it is estimated that 33,000 service members have gained United States citizenship through the military. This has provided those members with unmatched opportunities and given the total force an essential variety of diversity, skillsets and perspectives.

The naturalization process can typically be lengthy and complex, but through the implementation of certain programs, the military aims to expedite these processes and help integrate these service members and their families more efficiently.

“Allowing non-U.S. citizens into the military is beneficial because it provides diverse and unique perspectives that we might not always have,” said Capt. Kelsey Knitter, 75th Air Base Wing assistant staff judge advocate. “It also allows people who have potentially grown up in or seen the way of living of another country to naturalize and become a part of our U.S. military. They understand what a privilege it is to not only be here, but to serve in our armed forces. That perspective is incredibly valuable.”

The process of gaining citizenship can be challenging including long wait times, complex applications and tedious tasks. However, USCIS and the 75th Air Base Wing legal office are working together to help service members gain their citizenship faster.

“For those joining the military without citizenship, they will be green card holders and have legal status,” said Knitter. “It can take up to three years for green card holders until they can try to naturalize. With approval from their commander, service members now can gain citizenship after a year of serving honorably.”

Another challenge service members run into is integrating and naturalizing their families. Staff Sgt. Andrea Arango Arroyave, 421st Fighter Generation Squadron commander’s support staff noncommissioned officer in charge, has been working to get U.S. citizenship for her mother.

“I have lived through the process,” said Arango Arroyave.

“I have been stationed alone and away from my family with no hope because their visas kept getting denied.
Immigration can be a major barrier for service members and even a reason why some separate from the armed forces,” she said. “I am just grateful to be reunited with my family now and I want to be able to keep other families of military members together through broadcasting immigration benefits available to them and their families.”

Through the naturalization process and help from the legal office and the USCIS, she hopes to soon gain her mother citizenship, providing her family greater opportunities the U.S. has to offer and make it easier to keep her family together.

“I hope that by educating military members about these processes keeps other families united as well,” said Arango Arroyave. “This can improve the lives of a lot of people and lead to a chain of more opportunities and gratefulness to this country and military as well as increased diversity and morale in our ranks.”

Non-U.S. citizens interested in serving are encouraged to meet with a recruiter to discuss benefits, opportunities and programs. Service members trying to naturalize a family member or spouse are encouraged to reach out to their base legal office for legal assistance.

“Recruiters have become well-versed in how the process works and the benefits that can come with that,” said Knitter. “There is even a new program at basic military training to help non-U.S. citizens naturalize while going through training. The process can be very overwhelming, but we are here to help.”

To learn more, contact the 75th ABW legal office at 801-777-6626 or email To find a local recruiter, visit