Citizenship path for Airmen now a Total Force reality

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Senior Airman Karla Bustamante has career aspirations. As an information management journeyman with the 375th Mission Support Group at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., she wants to make staff sergeant and someday finish her bachelor's degree in computer science.

Airman Bustamante, a Nicaraguan native, recently completed a lifelong aspiration -- becoming a U.S. citizen, using a new total force application that involves the Air Reserve Personnel Center and Air Force Personnel Center working in concert.

"It's always been a dream of mine to be an American citizen, so when I finally took the oath of allegiance it was a very special moment for me," said Airman Bustamante, who moved to Miami with her parents and brother when she was 17. "The people at AFPC helped answer my questions so I could get my packet ready for USCIS [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] to review. Also, the virtual MPF made it easy to find all the necessary forms and information; it was a great resource."

In support of Total Force integration, U.S. citizenship application forms, checklists and other supporting documents recently became available to Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard members through the virtual Personnel Center-Guard Reserve link on the Air Reserve Personnel Center website. Like the active duty virtual military personnel flight, vPC-GR gives Airmen 24-hour access to personnel information at one centralized location.

"Before it was just an active-duty focus, but now we're taking a Total Force approach since the Reserve and Guard are essential to everything the Air Force does today," said Tech. Sgt. James Murphy. Sergeant Murphy serves as the NCO in charge of military customer service representatives at AFPC's Air Force Contact Center and as the citizenship liaison between the Air Force and USCIS.

"We're here to help all Air Force team members get their foot in the door," he said. "If a problem arises after the documents are sent to USCIS, we can assist by checking on the status of their packet and by speeding the process along if need be."

Once a quarter, Sergeant Murphy sends out e-mail notifications (which now include Reserve and Guard members) to about 900 non-citizen Airmen with information on the naturalization process.

On July 3, 2002, President George W. Bush eased this process by signing an executive order that expedited naturalization procedures for alien and non-citizen military members serving on or after Sept. 11, 2001. Later changes allowed legal residents who enlist in the military to immediately petition for citizenship, rather than wait the five years required for civilians to start the process. In addition, the $675 fee for the naturalization application, which includes petition and fingerprinting costs, was waived for servicemembers.

"It's an honor to be able help my fellow Airmen become true Americans since the advantages of citizenship are so clear," Sergeant Murphy said. "Without their U.S. citizenship, they can't re-enlist, vote or get needed security clearances."

While living her version of the American dream, Airman Bustamante will soon enjoy an additional benefit -- overseas travel. In August, she heads to the public affairs office at the Allied Force Command headquarters in Naples, Italy.

"I would never have qualified for this assignment without my U.S. citizenship," Airman Bustamante said. "Being in the military has made me even more aware of those who have gone before and the responsibilities I have now. With all that's been given me, I just want to do my part and make a difference."

For more information on citizenship procedures, see your local military personnel flight/element or call the Air Force Contact Center at (800) 616-3775. On-line information can be found on the secure sites of the Air Force Personnel Center and Air Reserve Personnel Center.