A Soldier’s road to citizenship

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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.

Spc. Mark Hall, a gunner for the command security detachment takes the oath of U.S. citizenship
Spc. Mark Hall, a gunner for the command security detachment, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Task Force Band of Brothers, holds up his right hand and takes the oath of U.S. citizenship during a naturalization ceremony at Logistical Support Area Anaconda near Balad, Iraq. Hall is originally from the Philippines, but now calls San Bernardino, Calif., his hometown.

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.

Spc. Mark Hall with Col. Mark Hampton, Jack Bulger, U.S. immigration officer
Spc. Mark Hall, a gunner for the command security detachment, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Task Force Band of Brothers, holds up his certificate of U.S. citizenship while standing next to Col. Mark Hampton, commander, 35th Area Support Group and Jack Bulger, U.S. immigration officer from the Rome office, during a naturalization ceremony at Logistical Support Area Anaconda near Balad, Iraq. Hall is originally from the Philippines, but now calls San Bernardino, Calif., his hometown.

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.

Spc. Mark Hall with Command Sgt. Maj. David List
Spc. Mark Hall, gunner for the command security detachment, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Task Force Band of Brothers, holds up his certificate of U.S. citizenship while standing next to Command Sgt. Maj. David List, native of native of West Warwick, R.I., command sergeant major, 3rd HBCT, after a naturalization ceremony at Logistical Support Area Anaconda near Balad, Iraq. Hall is originally from the Philippines, but now calls San Bernardino, Calif., his hometown.

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!”

Alan Gray is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of NewsBlaze Daily News and other online newspapers. He prefers to edit, rather than write, but sometimes an issue rears it’s head and makes him start pounding the keyboard. Alan has a fascination with making video and video editing, so watch out if he points his Canon 7d in your direction.