Dream of becoming citizen comes true for Airman

  • Published
  • By Steven J. Merrill
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Nearly three weeks after officially becoming an American, the pride and elation of this historic event continues to amaze him.

Airman 1st Class Juan Galvis, a contract administrator for the 28th Contracting Squadron, was among the more than 100 people from more than 30 countries who became U.S. citizens at a ceremony at Mount Rushmore National Memorial July 14.

"It was a fantastic experience ... sharing that moment with many people from different countries and cultures, knowing that becoming an American citizen was a common desire for every single one of us," said Galvis, who heralds from Bogota, Colombia, a sprawling metropolis of 7 million people.

Galvis enlisted in the Air Force in June 2010, another grand dream that came true for him. "I served in the Colombian Army with the Nueva Granada Military University before I flew to the U.S. I've always been interested in military life, and joining the Air Force was something of a pipe dream of mine," he said. "So, I took the opportunity as soon as I was eligible for enlistment."

One of the advantages of joining the military during wartime was that he was eligible to apply for citizenship under special provisions provided for in the Immigration and Nationality Act. In addition, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has created a streamlined process specifically for military personnel serving in active-duty status or recently discharged.

"The naturalization process is expedited for people who apply as military members," he said. "An immigrant applying as a civilian has to wait five years from the day they get a green card, and the processing time can be just as long. And, if you first come in to the country as a refugee, the period for becoming a permanent resident (one step toward citizenship, and a minimum requirement for enlistment) can be from five to 10 years."

Galvis, like other applicants, also had to pass a background check and had to take and pass an English proficiency test, as well as a civics test focused on U.S. history and government structure.

The first person in his family to become a citizen, Galvis said he is hopeful that his mother and brother will follow his example.

"I have four brothers and two sisters," he said. "Mauricio, the youngest, is my only full brother and the one dearest to me. I've been through everything with him. On those occasions when the day was just so heavy and it was hard to feel happy about anything, we shared the burden together and helped each other get through. I do expect him to become a citizen when he becomes eligible, as well as my mom."

While none of his loved ones were able to attend the ceremony, several members of his squadron were among those who witness him becoming an American.

"Watching his dream - something he has strived so hard to accomplish - come true was very humbling and emotional," said David Mendelsohn, 28th CONS construction flight chief. "Not only did it bring tears to my eyes, it made me realize just how fortunate many of us are to have the freedom that many others only wish for."