Citizenship through service

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Victor J. Caputo
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing
Education travel and a steady income.

These are all common reasons why people join the Air Force. Whatever the reason, some people joined for more than just a job.

Airman 1st Class Hisham Haddad, 22nd Medical Operations Squadron family health technician, was born in Syria, where he lived the first 14 years of his life.

"When my parents told me we had the papers to come over here, I was excited," said Haddad. "I was only 14, I was young, but I was excited to start a new life. I've always been the kind of the person that wants to experience something new, go out and see what the world is like and experience different cultures."

Haddad still did not have his citizenship at the age of 19, despite having lived in America for several years. He decided to join the military, and ended up choosing the Air Force.

It was during Basic Military Training that he began the paperwork to apply for U.S. citizenship, but bad timing and mistakes kept pushing this goal back.

He arrived at McConnell Air Force Base in March 2013. His current leadership saw the struggle he had in obtaining his citizenship and helped him speed up the process soon after. Haddad became an American citizen on July 19, 2013.

"The process just dragged and dragged for over a year," said Haddad. "It felt really nice to finally get it."

Haddad reaped several military benefits in addition to the civilian benefits of citizenship, as he is now eligible to deploy, be stationed overseas and receive a security clearance, among other things.

While Haddad was already safely in America with his family before he joined the Air Force, another member of Team McConnell was not so fortunate.

Airman 1st Class Samuel Nyamekye is a native of the Republic of Ghana, a small country in west Africa. Shortly after his wife gave birth to their daughter, he won a "lottery" that granted him an immigrant visa to the United States, and he arrived in Atlanta, Ga., in July 2011.

Nyamekye soon found work in a warehouse, but he sought a way to expedite the citizenship process that eventually brought him to the Air Force.

"I had so many reasons for joining the Air Force," said Nyamekye. "The most prominent reason among all others was becoming a citizen. This is because it was a great opportunity for me to migrate my immediate family here too. Had I not joined the Air Force, it would have taken me five years as a permanent resident to qualify to apply for U.S. citizenship."

He left for Basic Military Training in May 2012 and became a citizen during his technical training.

"I must say that I was very happy the day I got my certificate of naturalization," he said. "Honestly, I didn't think it would be that fast. It was then that I realized that I made one of the best choices."

Nyamekye became an Airman because it was the best choice for his family. Airman 1st Class Jaun Martinez-Isaza, 22nd Civil Engineer Squadron electrical production apprentice, saw a roadblock in his career, and the Air Force offered a way past it.

"I was going through college because I wanted to commission one day, but when I spoke with a recruiter he said I needed citizenship before commissioning," he said. "I came in to speed up the process of obtaining my citizenship."

Martinez-Isaza, a native of Columbia, grew up watching his father succeed as a commissioned officer in the Columbian navy. Enlisting in the Air Force may not have been his goal from the start, but it has provided plenty of options for the Airman.

"The Air Force has given me much more than just my citizenship," he said. "I have a lot of work experience and life experiences I couldn't have gotten anywhere."

The chance to earn his citizenship in a quick, timely manner did not go un-noticed by Martinez-Isaza.

"Somehow, when I was granted my citizenship I felt an increase in the pride," he said. "Something just felt better."

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