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Florent Groberg Honored At Citizenship Ceremony

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By Debbie Gregory.

Capt. Florent Groberg was the special guest at a citizenship ceremony last month, where he was honored with the Outstanding American by Choice award.

The Outstanding American by Choice initiative recognizes the outstanding achievements of naturalized U.S. citizens. Through civic participation, professional achievement, and responsible citizenship, recipients of this honor have demonstrated their commitment to this country and to the common civic values that unite us as Americans.

Groberg, one of  only 11 living Medal of Honor recipients from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Poissy, France, and became an American citizen in 2001 at age 17.

Groberg addressed 164 newly minted American citizens who hailed from 43 different countries. He shared with them that he had come to understand what it meant to be an American through his seven years of military service.

“When I lost my friends, when I felt that pain, it reminded me why this is the greatest country in the world. Because of its people, because of our history,” he said. “We stand up while others run. We face our struggles head on, and when we get back down, we get back up.”

Army Secretary Eric Fanning, another guest of honor at the ceremony, gave more weight to passages in the oath of citizenship that commit new citizens to “bear arms on behalf of the United States” and “perform noncombatant services for the Armed Forces” when required by law to do so.

Fanning hailed the diversity in the room, saying it was crucial to American military strength.

“For me, the existence and frequency of these naturalization ceremonies ranks as an important national achievement,” he said. “As Army secretary, when I look at a formation of soldiers, I want to see strength. I want to see the resilience. I see that as I look around this room today. These characteristics are what makes Americans and America great.”

“We are the greatest country in the world. This is a place where we can make anything we want of ourselves; this is the land of opportunity,” Groberg said. “So I’m very confident in the leadership that we have had, and will have. And I just, every day, am grateful to call myself an American. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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Should Military Service Earn Non-citizen Veterans a Second Chance at Citizenship?

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By Debbie Gregory.

A baby born on U.S. soil is automatically granted U.S. citizenship. Another path to citizenship is through military service. In fact, joining the U.S. military has always been one of the fastest ways to get U.S. citizenship. But it doesn’t happen automatically. And unfortunately, veterans who did not go through the process of becoming citizens, if they get in trouble, can be deported.

This is a fact known all too well by Hector Barajas-Varela. Born in Mexico, the 39-year-old Army veteran came to the U.S. illegally when he was seven. Although he donned a U.S. military uniform and received an honorable discharge, Barajas-Varela never followed through on his naturalization paperwork.

In 2002, Barajas-Varela was deported after pleading guilty to felony charges resulting from issues with alcohol and drugs. He founded the Deported Veterans Support House, known as the Bunker, a shelter for former U.S. military servicemembers who find themselves in the same situation.

The Bunker offers assistance and support from fellow veterans and volunteers.

Miguel Gabriel Vazquez is one of two Vietnam War veterans who offer counseling at the Bunker. Vazquez, a trained counselor with a master’s degree in psychology, comes to the bunker once a week to do individual counseling.

“They all have PTSD whether diagnosed or not,” said Vazquez, who has not been deported but lives in Rosarita Beach, Mexico, where he moved to write a book on healing PTSD naturally. “These guys get all that plus the trauma of being deported.”

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is considering Barajas-Varela’s application after his crime — discharging a firearm — was reclassified and is no longer an aggravated felony.

Naturalization used to be part of basic training, but the laws changed. As a result, lots of green card holders went to Iraq and Afghanistan without becoming citizens.

U.S. immigration law states that non-citizens who commit serious crimes forfeit their right to remain in the country. Deported veterans and their advocates say those who wear the uniform should be treated as U.S. citizens: punished for any crimes they commit, but not deported.