By Pfc. Paul J. Harris, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th ID
BALAD, Iraq – From John Wayne to Tom Hanks, Hollywood has projected the depiction of the American Soldier as larger than life on the big screen. Audiences from all over the world have seen movies and TV shows about the lives of Soldiers.
That was the dream for Spc. Mark Hall, gunner, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Task Force Band of Brothers, growing up in the islands of the Philippines. He always wanted to be an American Soldier, just like he had seen in the movies.
Hall got his wish after receiving a visa to come to the United States. It was an emotional decision that required him to leave his job as an operating room technician and leave his family behind, but it was one he said he was determined to make.
“When I got my visa in the Philippines my plan was to come over and join the Army,” Hall said referring to his trip to the U.S. “I asked permission from my wife, but she didn’t like the idea because she knew there was a war on. She tried to support me in my decision.”
Hall arrived in San Bernardino, Calif., in November, 2004 and within weeks was at the recruiter’s office ready to join. After 13 weeks of combined basic training and advanced individual training at Fort Benning, Ga., Hall was sent to his first duty station, Fort Carson, Colo. Soon after settling in he started the process of becoming a naturalized citizen.
For servicemembers the five year waiting period is reduced to just one year and there’s no fee involved for applying to become a citizen.
Hall initially received an appointment from the Denver US Customs and Immigration Service but the appointment collided with his deployment with 3rd HBCT in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
As a gunner for the 3rd HBCT command security detachment, it did not take long for Hall to experience the dangers of his job as a deployed Soldier. In mid January while on patrol and manning the .50 caliber machine gun for his Humvee his vehicle collided unexpectedly with an M-1 Abrams tank. Hall luckily only suffered bruises and cuts to the face.
After the accident Hall was given some time off to recuperate, explained his squad leader Sgt. Michael Carlson, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd HBCT. Carlson said he noticed the physical wounds healing but emotionally Hall was still hurting because his friend Cpl. Dustin Lee Kendal, the vehicles driver, died in the accident. It took Hall a long time before he was able to open up and talk about the accident.
Hall’s appointment with USCIS had been postponed until he arrived in Iraq, but due to the accident was pushed back even further. Fortunately, an appointment opened up in April and he was flown to Forward Operating Base Spiecher for his interview with officials from the Rome USCIS office. Hall was required to answer test questions on basic American knowledge such as “who was the first president of the United States,” and during the interview was asked about his background and growing up in the Philippines.
It only took the USCIS officials 20 minutes to approve of Hall’s citizenship request; upon finding out about the decision Hall was ecstatic. “My dream became true,” he said.
His dream materialized July 1 at a naturalization ceremony held at Logistical Support Area Anaconda. His stomach was filled with butterflies before the ceremony but soon turned to excitement as the ceremony began. Hall said he kept telling himself “I am finally an American Citizen” as he walked across the stage and accepted the American flag.
“It was an honor and privilege to be there when he received his certificate,” said Command Sgt. Maj. David List, command sergeant major, 3rd HBCT. “These folks come from other countries and give up everything they had to come and be part of our nation. Now they are true Americans, now that flag actually means something.”
Never one to pass up an opportunity to have some fun with his Soldiers, List playfully shouted at Hall from the audience as he accepted his certificate of citizenship “Hurry up Hall; we have to go on patrol!”