The road to citizenship paved a little smoother thanks to local Airmen

  • Published
  • By Lemitchel King
  • Air Force Sustainment Center Public Affairs

When Airman 1st Class Luis Ramirez Escoto, a contracting administrator with Air Force Sustainment Center Contracting Directorate, was looking to start his citizenship process, he only had to look as far as his morning workout. There, he found Senior Airman Hugo Ruano Gutierrez who also works as a contracting specialist with the AFSC.

The Airman, born in Dominican Republic, moved to New York when he was 15 years old. After high school and working jobs here and there, he decided he wanted a better life for himself by joining the Air Force, so he talked with his uncle, who is retired Air Force, about living with him for a year in Florida to help him get into better shape before enlisting.

“Initially, with Airman Ramirez, somehow the citizenship process came up one day when we were at PT and he started asking questions about it,” said Ruano Gutierrez.

Just months earlier, Ruano Gutierrez, who was born in Guatemala City, also had a lot of questions regarding how to complete the process. He was fortunate to have, working right beside him, Senior Airman Reginald Lao, who had started the process just months before Gutierrez arrived to AFSC’s contracting office at Tinker Air Force Base.

Through a series of questions in text messages and in the office throughout the workday that Ruano Gutierrez had for Lao on his next steps, the two had the idea to develop a tri-fold pamphlet that they were able to present to Ramirez Escoto and some others on base, with the step-by-step information necessary for military members to complete a citizenship request.

“Airman Lao was going through that process, and I brought up that I wasn't a citizen yet either,” said Ruano Gutierrez. “Airman Lao kind of pointed me to the first step, which is creating that account on USCIS [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service], so my process was a little more straightforward than his.”

Lao, who came to America from the Philippines when he was 32 years old, didn’t immediately join the Air Force nor was he aware that military service could help him attain citizenship status.

“When I was in [Basic military Training], people found out I was not a citizen and a lot of people were telling me before I graduate BMT, I will be a citizen and that I would do everything; make the interview, take the oath, before graduation, and I would be a citizen,” said Lao.

“But I was getting different information about if I would become a citizen while in BMT or not. It went on as I kept asking different people, and they were like, we're not sure if the rules just change and I needed a minimum of one year of service before I could apply for citizenship. I went to tech school and still the same thing. I was researching, asking around, and was told I could apply as soon as I get to my first base. Once I got here to Tinker, I started the process.”

One step in the process is to have someone at an 0-6 level or above sign a form N-426 which helps establish U.S. citizenship and allows the Air Force to process other necessary job-related paperwork for the requestor. The request was made to Col. David Miller, AFSC vice commander, for Ramirez Escoto.

"Like so many people pursuing citizenship in America, A1C Ramirez Escoto has an inspiring story. His journey is one of perseverance, determination, and resolve,” Miller said. “You can tell how much this means to him, and I'm excited to see him taking the next step in achieving his goal."

As the idea of creating a tool that would put all the information in one place for other Airmen solidified, the two initially created a PowerPoint presentation, but their leadership supported the idea of a hand-held product that would be easier to share through channels like the base education office, Airman and Family Readiness Center, the base chapel, and other locations where there may be an interest.

“Our current senior enlisted leader did send it out to the rest of the Sustainment Center in an email,” Gutierrez said.

“So, the next step for us is to broaden how people can get this and if anyone reaches out to us, we’re here,” Lao added.

The process of immigrants seeking citizenship while serving in the military is not a new one. In fact, Alexander Hamilton, who served as an American military officer and as the first United States secretary of the treasury from 1789 to 1795 was born on the Caribbean Island of Nevis.

“Foreign born persons who have fought for the U.S. military gaining U.S. citizenship is as old as the American Revolution,” said Howard Halvorson, AFSC historian. “Alexander Hamilton was Gen. George Washington’s aide-de-camp and when General Washington became President Washington, Hamilton served as the first Secretary of the Treasury.”

And while the process to gaining citizenship may have changed a lot since Hamilton’s time, there are still many steps that require a lot of research, time, and patience for anyone born outside of the U.S. Both Lao and Ruano Gutierrez hope that this tool makes the process a little smoother for future Airmen and other service members.