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American dream: Airman’s journey to citizenship

Service members in a court room wait for naturalization.

Airman 1st Class Floid Santiago, 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron Aerial Port aircraft service element member, becomes a naturalized citizen April 11, 2018, at the Citizenship and Immigration Court, Memphis, Tenn. Five other Airmen from the base and multiple service members from the surrounding areas were naturalized in a ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Grace Nichols)

Service members in a court room wait for naturalization.

Airman 1st Class Floid Santiago, 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron Aerial Port aircraft service element member, waits with other service members to become a naturalized citizen April 11, 2018, at the Citizenship and Immigration Court, Memphis, Tenn. Five other Airmen from the base and multiple service members from the surrounding areas were naturalized in a ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Grace Nichols)

Service members in a court room wait for naturalization.

Airman 1st Class Floid Santiago, 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron Aerial Port aircraft service element member, receives his certificate of citizenship April 11, 2018, at the Citizenship and Immigration Court, Memphis. Santiago was born and raised in Antipolo City, Philippines, and moved to the United States in 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Grace Nichols)

Service members in a court room wait for naturalization.

Airman 1st Class Floid Santiago, 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron Aerial Port aircraft service element member, watches a video by the President of the United States after becoming a naturalized citizen April 11, 2018, at the Citizenship and Immigration Court, Memphis, Tenn. Santiago was born and raised in Antipolo City, Philippines, and moved to the United States in 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Grace Nichols)

Service members in a court room wait for naturalization.

The director of the Memphis immigration Court briefs service members during the naturalization process April 11, 2018, at the Citizenship and Immigration Court, Memphis, Tenn. Multiple service members from different branches of the military were in attendance. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Grace Nichols)

Individuals stand in front of a wall with a mural of the American flag for a group photo

Service members from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., receive citizenship April 11, 2018, at the Citizenship and Immigration Court, Memphis. Multiple service members from different branches of the military were in attendance. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Grace Nichols)

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. --

Immigrants have a proud tradition of serving in the military. From the Revolutionary War to current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, immigrants have made significant contributions to the United States by giving their talents.

Alfred Rascon, an immigrant who served in the Vietnam War, earned the Medal of Honor and later became a U.S. citizen. He eventually became Director of the Selective Service System as well.

In that same vein, Floid Santiago chose to serve the United States as an immigrant first.

Born in Antipolo City, Philippines, he had a dream of doing more than he could in a place where using public transportation or walking was the only way to get to school or work; he recalls walking miles to get anywhere to save money.

“Living in the Philippines was quite different from the United States,” he said. “It’s a developing country in every sense of the word.”

Recognizing the need for a change for her son and herself, Santiago’s mother moved to the United States on a visa. She performed as a musician in Las Vegas, Nevada, and eventually married.

“My mother always planned to move our family to the United States,” Santiago said. “She began the process in 2011 to have me join her, and I ultimately moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2014.”

The process involved completing paperwork and physical exams in both the Philippines and the United States over the course of three years. He had to stay healthy and avoid substances that could disqualify him.

“My stepfather sponsored me, which was a huge help to getting me a Green Card,” Santiago said.

An Air Force veteran and now military contractor, his stepfather suggested a new path for the future Airman.

“When I got here, my stepfather told me the Air Force was a great way to start my life in the United States,” Santiago said. “He said ‘what better way to start your life in a country than by joining the military itself?’ I agreed wholeheartedly and began trying to get in the Air Force.”

The process of enlisting in the Air Force as an immigrant is lengthy.

The standard paperwork and testing for citizens is intensive, requiring physical examinations, health records, birth certificates and more. An immigrant has even more requirements – proof of residency and education being only a few. For Santiago, it took eight months for his enlistment to be approved.

With a sigh of relief, now an Airman 1st Class, Santiago joined the Air Force Nov. 7, 2016, after a year in the delayed entry program, but the journey to citizenship was not over.

He finished training and became a 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron Aerial Port flight aircraft service element member at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas.

Serving honorably in the military for at least one year before naturalization can take place is a requirement for service members, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Disciplinary actions could result in a dismissal from the Air Force and losing the chance at citizenship.

Service members are required to be a citizen in order to obtain a security clearance; they must also have a security clearance to do a number of things, including deploying.

Santiago worked for a year, ensuring he followed standards at a level above his rank. After he met the criteria for naturalization, his leadership aided Santiago so he could obtain his dream and continue to serve.

“I called the immigration office in Memphis to help with the process,” said Capt. Fiona Pham, 19th LRS Aerial Port flight commander. “He is super sharp and he’s amazing; getting his citizenship means more opportunities will open up to him.”

The process of getting a date for naturalization took months. After the call from his leadership, Santiago combed through mountains of documents since coming to the United States, making sure the immigration office had every piece of information needed.

“I believed the U.S. Air Force could give me every single opportunity the United States can offer, so I felt like I had to give something back since this country took me in,” Santiago said. “My leadership played a big role in my development and the naturalization process.”

Now an Airman 1st Class, the dream finally became a reality for Santiago April 11, 2018. Along with five other Airmen from the base and multiple service members from surrounding areas were naturalized in a ceremony in Memphis, Tennessee, at the Memphis Citizenship and Immigration Court.

“I felt a sense of camaraderie with the fellow service members,” Santiago said. “Like a brotherhood, we’d been through the trials together; getting to say the oath in unison as naturalized citizens was the best feeling.”

Now that Santiago received his shot at the American dream, he hopes to instill the same drive and persistence to seek citizenship in others.

“It’s a long process, but don’t give up,” he said. “Let the United States show you what it can offer; this country is comprised of proud and strong people; I am glad to be among them.”

(Information courtesy off www.Americasvoice.org fact sheet: immigrants and the military.)