Servicemembers Receive 'Outstanding Americans by Choice' Award
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 25, 2007 Four airmen, a soldier and a member of the Coast Guard received the “Outstanding American by Choice” award from the chief of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services during a ceremony here yesterday.
The recipients of the of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Outstanding American by Choice award stand with the office’s director, Emilio T. Gonzalez, center. From left to right Air Force Capt. Rasul Alsalih, Army Warrant Officer Abida Sultana Shoyeb, Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mitzie A. Robinson, Gonzalez, Air Force Maj. Manuel Dominguez, Air Force Capt. Van T. Thai and Air Force Tech. Sgt. Oluwasina Awolusi. Defense Dept. photo by Fred W. Baker III
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The award recognizes naturalized citizens who have demonstrated a commitment to the country through civic participation, professional achievement and responsible citizenship.
The servicemembers joined congressmen, doctors, professors and other eminent naturalized citizens who received the award within the fortified walls of the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, the birthplace of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Emilio T. Gonzalez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services presented the award in conjunction with a naturalization ceremony for 17 servicemembers and a family member. Those taking the oath of allegiance represented Cameroon, Czechoslovakia, Germany, India, Jamaica, Panama, Philippines, Portugal, Somalia, Trinidad others.
Gonzalez, who is also a naturalized citizen and a 26-year military veteran, and said today’s recipients embody the Outstanding American by Choice award through their commitment to the principles on which the nation was founded.
“The outstanding Americans here today made a choice to become citizens and they deserve our respect for that act alone, but they’ve also made a decision to give back to their nation through military service, putting their lives on the line, sacrificing their blood, sweat and tears, and for this they’ve earned our gratitude,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said that there are 45,000 non-citizen immigrants now serving in the U.S. military, and that hundreds of thousands have served throughout the country’s history.
He noted that James McHenry, third U.S. Secretary of War, the namesake of this harbor-side fort, was an Irish immigrant.
Also noteworthy, Gonzalez said, was that during the War of 1812 when artillery barrages from this fort held the harbor against attack by the British navy – the battle that inspired the penning of the national anthem – a quarter of the forces manning the guns were immigrants.
By the 1840s almost half the U.S. military recruits were immigrants, many enlisting “right off the boat,” that brought them to America, he said.
U.S. military service helps immigrants appreciate the constitutional guarantees and makes it easier to integrate, Gonzalez said.
“It is quickly understood that those immigrants who volunteer to serve in our Armed Forces are more easily integrated into our nation, foster a greater attachment to our national and political institutions and are transformed into committed and loyal Americans who voluntarily accept the obligations and responsibilities of citizenship,” Gonzalez said.
About the recipients:
-- Air Force Maj. Manuel Dominguez was born in Havana, Cuba. His mother escaped communist Cuba with him when he was two weeks old. His father was forced to stay behind, was subsequently detained in Cuba and eventually died there.
Dominguez was raised in Miami, Fla., and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1986. He said he felt the need to repay his country for the opportunities given him and his family, and wanted to lead the family forward, Dominguez said. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1988.
Four years after enlisting, he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He was the first in his family to attend college.
While serving, Dominquez was recognized as being in the top one percent of enlisted Marines, and was offered an assignment as aide to Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf at U.S Central Command, in Tampa, Fla. He later deployed to Iraq with the general during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Schwarzkopf awarded him the Joint Service Commendation Medal for his wartime service.
After the war, he earned a master’s degree in business administration while attending courses at night and eventually left active-duty service. Dominguez continued his studies and earned a doctorate in computer technology in 2000.
In January 2005, Dominguez returned to active duty in the Air Force and was assigned as the Information Technology Flight Commander, 2nd Medical Group, Barksdale Air Force Base, La., where he implemented Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application, the Defense Department’s Web-based, health information system and made the hospital the first in the Air Force to transition all providers to tablet PC technology, and was subsequently nominated for the Surgeon General’s Chief Information Officer of the Year Award.
He is now the chief of expeditionary systems, where he manages a multi-million dollar project, and is the first project manager to roll out an electronic health record to the theater of combat.
--Air Force Capt. Rasul Alsalih serves on active duty in his former homeland of Iraq, where is responsible for the design, cost estimate, contract award and construction inspection of more than $14 million directly supporting the U.S Army mission in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
After the defeat of the former Iraqi army and the liberation of Kuwait in the first Gulf War, Alsalih fled to the southern border of Iraq. He was separated from his wife and child in the chaos caused by heavy artillery in his town. At the border, Alsalih was taken into a camp in northern Saudi Arabia and provided food, water and medical treatment by American soldiers. After five days in the camp, he was reunited with his family there.
The Alsalihs lived in the camp from March 1991 until September 1992. Alsalih volunteered as a translator. It was during this interaction he developed a deep respect and admiration for the U.S. soldiers and their willingness to help the defenseless masses forced from their country, he said. He noted the kindness of the soldiers especially to the children and elderly and fostered his wish “to become one of these strong-willed, dedicated, kind soldiers.” In August 1992, the Alsalihs were selected to relocate to the United States.
The Alsalihs arrived in the United States on Sept. 24, 1992. Alsalih and his wife became naturalized citizens of the United States in 1997. He earned his master’s degree in systems engineering in 2000. In September 2000, he was commissioned as a Biomedical Sciences Corps officer.
As a first lieutenant, Alsalih was transferred to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., where he developed the Immersion and Joint Training Exercises and the “Iraqi Language Kit” pocket-guide field manual used by hundreds of thousands of troops deploying to the region.
This current deployment to Iraq is his second return assignment to his former home, and his third supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2003 Alsalih served as the operations officer for linguist operations at the detainment facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In 2004, Alsalih returned to Iraq to serve as a liaison officer for the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi government.
-- Air Force Capt. Van T. Thai is a mobility instructor pilot assigned to the 18th Operations Support Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan. Thai and his family became naturalized U.S. citizens in 1990, after emigrating from Vietnam in 1983.
Thai graduated in the top 25 percent of the 1998 class of the U.S. Air Force Academy and was selected to study national security issues and French in the Air Force Institute of Technology program at the University of Colorado.
Thai entered undergraduate pilot training and garnered both its “Hard Charger” and “Flight Commander’s” awards. After completing pilot training, he was assigned to the 909th Air Refueling Squadron at Kadena. He deployed for Operation Enduring Freedom, where he executed presidential directed missions, earning an aerial achievement medal for skillful flying in a hostile environment. He was later selected one of the first U.S. servicemembers to aerial refuel Japanese F-15s. He was also selected for two Pentagon language-immersion programs in Tunisia and Vietnam.
Thai has also been active in the communities where he serves, working as the “Nerve Center” chairman for the 2006 and 2007 Kadena Special Olympics, Japan’s largest Special Olympics. Thai taught English to local preschool students and Japanese military members deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He has mentored more than 200 United States and Japanese cadets, junior high and high school students, and young Air Force airmen on leadership, military life, and the aviation career field.
Thai earned his master’s degree in economics and is working on his second master’s in international relations. He has also completed the Marine Corps Command and Staff College and is working on his Air Command and Staff College course, both by correspondence.
--Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mitzie A. Robinson joined the United States Coast Guard in 1983. Born in Jamaica, she became a naturalized citizen in 1987.
In her off-duty time, she is an active volunteer. Since 1990, she has volunteered in the Partnership in Education program, reading to more than 20 students and providing one-on-one tutoring for reading and writing skills. In 2006 and 2007 she organized the annual Easter egg hunt at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, reaching out to children of injured military returning from the Iraq War.
Using her Caribbean background, Robinson also volunteers to help the Coast Guard Compass Outreach Program by visiting the Virgin Islands. She recruited six students into the program, and one recently graduated from the Coast Guard Academy.
Through three assignments in Mobile, Ala., Baltimore, and Washington, she arranged for and delivered food baskets to needy families during the holidays. In 2006, volunteering every other Saturday morning, she participated in the Food for Hunger program, packing and distributing food donated from local farmers to Washington-area shelters and soup kitchens, feeding more than 100 homeless people each week.
Since 1998, Robinson has volunteered at her daughter’s schools training students on water safety, seat belts, helmets, and other outdoor safety practices. From 1999 to 2000 she volunteered with the Boston Public Saturday School program, tutoring 24 children with their homework. Her work resulted in 18 students successfully completing the program.
She volunteered to help plan and build a playground at Lucy Stone Elementary School in Dorchester, Mass. The project took six months of planning, meeting every Tuesday evening with the school principal, PTA, Boston Public Works, and board members. Once the plan was approved, Robinson volunteered more than 40 hours of her time helping to build the playground that would be used by over 300 students each school year. She also volunteered her off-duty time to participate in school book fairs and tutoring elementary students to help them with their reading and writing skills.
--Army Chief Warrant Officer Abida Sultana Shoyeb serves in the Army Veterinary Corps. In February 1989, she and her mother came to the United States from Karachi, Pakistan.
She enlisted in the Army in January 1991 as a food inspection specialist. She became a naturalized citizen of the United States in February 1998 while stationed in Port Hueneme, Calif. Her first overseas assignment was in 1998 in Guam. While there, she was assigned to a supply ship, USNS San Jose, serving as a shiprider and completing a deployment to the Persian Gulf from December 1998 to May 1999. She was selected attended Warrant Officer Candidate School at Fort Rucker, Ala., in April 2001.
Her first assignment as a warrant officer was with the Western Pacific District Veterinary Command in Guam, with duty at the Singapore Branch Veterinary Service. There, she ensured safe food delivery to U.S. forces in the Pacific and the Southeast Asia area. Shoyeb is now assigned as a senior food safety officer with the South Atlantic District Veterinary Command on Fort Stewart, Ga. She conducts commercial and military audits for 77 establishments in Florida, South Georgia, South Carolina, Puerto Rico, and Guantanamo Bay. Additionally, she organized and conducted training sessions for the inspectors and sets up Food Water and Vulnerability Assessment teams and oversees the Destination Laboratory Sampling Program.
-- Air Force Tech. Sgt. Oluwasina Awolusi is a pharmacy craftsman assigned to the 42nd Medical Support Squadron, 42nd Medical Group, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. He was born in Lagos State, Nigeria, in 1979, and he attended school there before his parents moved to the United States.
Awolusi entered the Air Force in October 1997 and became a citizen of the United States in February 2002 while stationed on Hurlburt Field, Fla. While stationed there, Awolusi received the Hurlburt Field Chief’s Group Sharp Award in November 1998; the 16th Medical Support Squadron Airman of the Quarter 1998; Pharmacy Airman of the Year 2000, and other honors. He also served for two years as a member of the base honor guard and its precision drill team.
Awolusi also is an active volunteer, involved in the local Habitat for Humanity, Veterans of Foreign Wars events, and Airmen Against Drunk Driving. An avid soccer player, he coached and played on the two-time base champs Medical Group soccer team and the base soccer team.
Awolusi was deployed to Kuwait in 2002 as a flight leader of operations. He provided base security at more than 10 construction sites, accounting for all third-country nationals working on the installations.
He was also deployed to Southwest Asia, where he was the noncommissioned officer in charge of pharmacy operations providing pharmaceutical care for an international base population of more than 5,000.
While stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, Awolusi was the vault custodian and supply technician accounting for more than 400 line items and maintaining a budget of $10 million. He was named January 2005 Pharmacy Outstanding Performer and NCO of the Year. Again, he volunteered for community programs such as the Food Bank of Alaska, Special Olympics, and the Annual Heart Walk.