Mexico native Spc. Fernando Lara, an artilleryman with 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, has two tours in Iraq under his belt, something most Americans can’t really relate to.
And Lara wasn’t even a U.S. citizen when he was fighting for the country. He is now.
Lara was one of 10 Fort Hood soldiers who became citizens during a naturalization ceremony Jan. 15 at III Corps Headquarters. The Army allows citizens of different countries to join the Army as long as they possess a permanent resident visa.
“Being called a citizen means a lot to me,” Lara said. “Finally, I have say in what’s going on.”
Keynote speaker Maj. Gen. Perry Wiggins, commander of First Army Division West, said he “jumped at the opportunity” to be involved in the ceremony and praised the new citizens for the service they have already given to America.
“Our nation’s future remains secure because of you,” Wiggins said.
Mario Ortiz, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services district in San Antonio, recited the oath of allegiance to the soldiers who repeated the words with their right hands raised.
“Every one of these ceremonies is extremely special,” Ortiz said.
The event was the second naturalization ceremony at Fort Hood since November, and more could be on the way if a plan to put them on a regular schedule is approved.
Ortiz said it’s his “understanding” that the event could occur every three months; however, Fort Hood officials said the plan has not been approved.
Nonetheless, Ortiz said he’s “excited about it” and it goes along with an immigration service task of providing a “mobile services initiative.”
That nationwide initiative aims to push immigration services outside of home offices to serve potential citizens.
Non-American citizens in the military can apply for citizenship with no fees and are granted “expedited processing,” Ortiz said, adding all the paperwork and interviews can be conducted at Fort Hood.
Fort Hood’s Army Community Service acts as a liaison between soldiers and the immigration service, hosting one immigration workshop each month along with the past two naturalization ceremonies.
Ortiz said immigration officials were glad to come to Fort Hood. Before November, soldiers regularly had to drive to San Antonio to become citizens.
“We really went from soup to nuts,” Ortiz said.
With the naturalization ceremony at Fort Hood, fellow troops of the soldiers earning their citizenship were able to watch, offering pats on the back and handshakes at the conclusion.
The new American citizens were all smiles.
Spc. Ayrton Villacorte came to the United States from the Philippines when he was 6. Sixteen years later, he is a soldier, Army war veteran and a new U.S. citizen.
“It just feels amazing,” said Villacorte, 22, a track mechanic in the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.