Program helps trainees become citizens
By 1st Lt. Beau Downey, Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs
/ Published December 22, 2016
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- The wind was picking up and the temperature was colder than expected for a San Antonio morning as the basic military training retreat ceremony began Dec. 8, 2016, at Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland, Texas.
Amid the brush of jackets and the murmurs of the crowd, a lone trainee stood at attention, waiting patiently for a moment that was 10 years in the making.
The trainee marched to his position in front of a waving American flag and waited to repeat the words that would officially make him an American citizen.
Airman Basic Rachid Karame, a member of the 321st Training Squadron, and his family lived most of their lives in Lebanon, his father a Lebanese air force pilot.
“My first visit to the United States was to Lackland Air Force Base in 1999 for my father’s training,” said Karame. “I could never have imagined that this would be the place I would become a citizen.”
Karame and his family applied for U.S. citizenship in 2002 and moved from Lebanon to the United States in 2012. Karame’s father encouraged him to join the military,
“He was the one who first brought up becoming a citizen through the military,” Karame said of his father. “He wanted me to join because of the opportunities it would provide.”
Karame followed in his father’s footsteps and decided to join the Air Force with the goal of becoming a citizen in the process.
Like many other immigrants, Karame took advantage of a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 that helps foreign service members become citizens. Under Section 329 of the law, the president may authorize the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to expedite the naturalization process for those who have served in certain wars and military conflicts.
These criteria include World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, and Operation Enduring Freedom. Karame is entering service during Operation Enduring Freedom and is accordingly entitled to become an American citizen.
In 2009, the U.S. Army noted a need for soldiers in certain categories that it considered vital to the national interest, such as health care officers and special forces units, the nature of which required the soldiers be citizens.
“The Army needed these soldiers to naturalize as soon as possible after joining,” Arwen Consaul, USCIS spokesperson said. “This led to the USCIS establishing the Naturalization at Basic Training Initiative with the Army in August 2009 to give noncitizen enlistees the opportunity to naturalize when they graduated from basic training.”
The program was adopted by the Navy in 2010, Air Force in 2011 and Marines in 2013. Participants begin the process of becoming a citizen before entering basic training and become citizens by the time they graduate.
One such prospective citizen taking advantage of the NBTI is an immigrant from Iraq, named Mustafa. He learned of the NBTI from his recruiter, who helped him prepare for the interview process prior to entering training.
“My recruiter played a vital role in every step of the process and was a mentor and advisor to me,” Mustafa said. “The team in the recruiting office has been magnificently supportive and has reinforced my decision to join the Air Force.”
During his time at BMT, Mustafa will meet with a USCIS representative to complete the citizenship process. Like Karame before him, pending a successful application process and completion of basic military training, Mustafa can look forward to the day he gains two ranks: Airman and citizen.
“It is a huge honor and personal dream to earn my citizenship through military service,” Mustafa said.
For more information about the Naturalization at Basic Military Training Initiative, please click here.
Editor’s note: The last name of trainee Mustafa was withheld upon request.