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Face of Defense: Airman’s Dream of Citizenship Comes True

By Air Force Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
92nd Air Refueling Wing

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash., May 3, 2012 – A contracting specialist from the 92nd Contracting Squadron here fulfilled his dream March 27 when a Spokane, Wash., judge swore him in as a U.S. citizen.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Airman 1st Class Abraham Garduza fulfilled his dream of becoming an American citizen. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

"The most important thing about citizenship for me is that I can finally get a secret clearance to better serve the Air Force and my country," said Air Force Airman 1st Class Abraham Garduza, who is responsible for Air Force contracts totaling more than $1 million.

"I always wanted to do something important with my life," added the 23-year-old Matamoros, Mexico native. "I wanted to do something I could be proud of doing while continuing my education."

Garduza was one of more than 32,000 people serving in the military as a legal resident in hopes of attaining citizenship. While most airmen focus on on-the-job training and career development courses, airmen like Garduza also study U.S. history, government and language to pass their citizenship examination -- material most Americans haven't touched since grade school.

"Since getting my citizenship, I have felt so incredibly humbled," said the volunteer soccer coach, who is proud to own a Mexican national soccer team jersey his girlfriend gave him. "I thoroughly enjoy what I do and the people I work with."

Passing a 100-question-plus examination and successfully completing an interview was only part of the process. Service members like Garduza also must be able to read, write and speak basic English, must be of good moral character and must have continuously lived in the United States for at least five years.

"Now I feel like I belong," Garduza said. "Not only does getting my citizenship allow me to better serve America, but it also allows me to vote -- a right I now have under the Constitution as a U.S. citizen."

It would have been much harder for Garduza to become a citizen had it not been for the generosity of another person who helped him attain his residency, he said.

"It was tough," said Garduza, who has maintained a long-distance relationship with his girlfriend. "I was a poor college student when I first decided to start the process toward citizenship."

Working toward his bachelors of arts degree in psychology from the University of Texas in Austin, Garduza was befriended by a generous law professor, Ramiro Canales, who fronted the $1,000 cost of Garduza's residency application.

"To have someone so generous at that stage of my life meant the world," he said.

However, Canales wasn't the only influential player in Garduza's development. His mother, Beatriz Martinez, also was pivotal in his ability to seek a higher education and eventually serve in the Air Force.

"My mom has been really helpful," he said. "Her guidance and support -- I just don't know where I'd be without her."

In Mexico, families must pay tuition for their children to attend high school. Garduza and his family moved from Mexico to the United States when he was 11 years old, he said, because his parents wanted to ensure he had access to better education opportunities than he did in Mexico.

"My parents weren't the wealthiest," he said, “but still wanted to ensure my siblings and I had a chance to excel in our lives."

Garduza said he also wants the same education opportunities for his children when he starts a family.

"I definitely believe that as human beings we want the best for our kids' futures," he said. "So I'll do whatever I can to also facilitate a powerful educational future for my kin."

The new U.S. citizen said he has future goals.

"I'd like to become an officer in the future, too," Garduza said. "I think it's important for me to see and understand what life is like on the enlisted side."

Garduza needed his citizenship to become an officer -- something he wasn't able to do even though he joined with a bachelor's degree.

"They're all stepping stones to becoming the best man I can be," he said. "I've always wanted to do something I love and be proud of who I am along the way."


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