FORT HOOD — Ayrton Villacorte came to the United States from the Philippines when he was 6 years old. Sixteen years later, Villacorte is a soldier, Army war veteran and a brand 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.
Villacorte was one of 10 Fort Hood soldiers who became citizens during a naturalization ceremony Tuesday afternoon at III Corps Headquarters. The Army allows citizens of different countries to join the Army as long as they possess a permanent resident visa, also known as a green card.
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 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 yet been approved.
Non-American citizens in the military can apply for citizenship with no fees and are granted “expedited processing,” Ortiz said, adding all of the paperwork and interviews can now be conducted at 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 look on, offering pats on the back and handshakes at the conclusion.
The new American citizens were all smiles.
Mexico-native Spc. Fernando Lara, an artilleryman with the 1st Cavalry Division with two tours in Iraq under his belt, said Tuesday’s event was a proud moment in his life.
“Being called a citizen means a lot to me,” he said. “Finally, I have a say in what’s going on.”