Darby Ortego, 25, endures gunfire and mine attacks fighting for the US army in Afghanistan, but this July 4 will be his first as a citizen of the country he serves.
Ortego, who battles insurgents in the violent eastern province of Khost with Bravo Company, 1-26 Infantry, recently attended a naturalization ceremony at a US base near Kabul ahead of this year’s Independence Day celebrations.
Like thousands of fellow Filipinos, he sees the US military as a fast-track to US citizenship, securing his own future and also helping his family back home.
“I joined up to get my mom to America,” said Private Ortego, who is deployed at Combat Outpost Sabari in Khost, where US troops clash with Taliban rebels based across the border in Pakistan.
“I want to bring my mom from her village in the Philippines to Nevada, where I live. I want her to be with me,” he said.
Ortego is one of the about 9,000 legal immigrants who join the US armed forces each year from countries as far apart as Panama, Nigeria, Liberia and Turkey.
He has “green card” permanent residency in the US, and was living with his divorced father in Nevada when he signed up for the army two years ago.
Other benefits to military service include a free college education, which Ortego says he hopes to use to study business management.
Troop commanders say new citizens fight hard for their privileges.
“He volunteered to serve in the army, so he certainly deserves to raise his right hand and take the citizenship oath,” said Ortego’s commanding officer, Captain Aaron Tapalman. “Like all soldiers going through the citizenship process, he has always felt completely part of the team. You wouldn’t know unless these guys tell you.”
There are about 25,000 non-US citizens serving in the military, the Pentagon says.
Non-citizens have fought for the US since the 18th century American War of Independence, while the US officially started recruiting Filipinos after World War II, when it opened military bases in the Philippines.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the naturalization process for military personnel was streamlined when then-US president George W. Bush scrapped waiting requirements for active soldiers.
In the past 10 years, nearly 69,000 immigrant troops have become US citizens while serving.
Naturalization takes just months for serving military personnel, compared with years for regular legal immigrants.
Unemployment and poverty in their homeland have driven millions of Filipinos abroad to search for work, often on construction sites or as domestic staff.
“It is better in the US because there are more opportunities. You can find a job and they will pay a decent amount,” said Ortego, who sends money back to his family in Northern Samar province.
However, the sacrifices he now has to make for himself and his mother are significant.
“Army life is tough, this is a stressful environment,” he said. “There are bad days here, IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and small arms fire. My mom is scared for me. It is a mother’s thing. She misses me a lot, I’ve only seen her briefly once in the last two years when she stopped overnight in Los Angeles just to say hi. I keep telling her, when I get citizenship, you guys are going to be in the US with me.”
In the week leading up to July 4 this year, more than 24,000 new Americans — civilian and military — are passing through naturalization ceremonies, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services said, with events for members of the armed forces being held in Kuwait and Baghdad as well as Kabul.
At an often emotional occasion, participants raise their hands and swear the oath of allegiance before receiving official certificates.
Also taking the military path to citizenship is Von Bolante, 24, who moved from the city of Tacloban outside Manila to Hawaii when he was 12.
Bolante, who serves alongside Ortego in Bravo Company, said it seems “a bit odd” to serve in a nation’s army and yet still have to apply to be a citizen.
“But I might as well as be American by now anyway, it is my adopted country,” he said. “I was working in a grocery store in Hawaii and wasn’t getting anywhere, so I joined up.”
On his first patrol in Afghanistan, Bolante watched from a hill as his platoon mates were hit by an IED in a field.
“It blew up a few meters from them. That was the scariest thing I’ve seen. I don’t know how nobody got hurt,” he said.
FRENCH AID: Paris has sent a navy ship and aircraft from Reunion Island with some pollution control equipment, but rough seas are spreading the oil spill The operator of a Japanese bulk carrier which ran aground off Mauritius in the Indian Ocean yesterday apologized for a major oil spill, which officials and environmentalists say is creating an ecological disaster, as police prepared to board the ship. The MV Wakashio, operated by Mitsui OSK Lines, struck the reef on Mauritius’ southeast coast on July 25. “We apologize profusely and deeply for the great trouble we have caused,” Mitsui OSK Lines executive vice president Akihiko Ono said at a news conference in Tokyo. The company would “do everything in their power to resolve the issue,” he said. At least 1,000 tonnes of
They stand as eyesores to most passers-by and potential public health risks to authorities, decaying buildings wrapped in tangles of exposed wire, studded with protruding leaky plastic pipes, vegetation billowing from cracks and terraces where particulates from polluted air have accumulated over time. With skyscrapers and ultramodern developments on every side, some of these “nail houses” are also sitting on land worth millions of dollars in Shenzhen’s inferno of a property market, where new-unit and second-hand home prices rival London. In battles over land and development, the nail house phenomenon has become widespread throughout China over the past two decades, with owners
An Italian alpine resort on Friday remained on high alert over fears that a vast chunk of a glacier on the slopes of the Mont Blanc massif could plummet in high temperatures. “No one gets through! No cars, bikes or pedestrians,” was the message at a checkpoint where an automatic barrier and two guards blocked the small road snaking up into a lush valley below the Planpincieux glacier, near the town of Courmayeur and the Italian-French border. The blockade has largely been greeted with contempt by the locals, one of whom said: “It’s a joke.” The huge ice block measuring around 500,000 cubic
SHOW OF SOLIDARITY: The publisher’s ‘Apple Daily’ newspaper has had to raise the number of copies printed from 70,000 to 550,000 to meet a huge surge in demand They have occupied Hong Kong’s central business district, marched by the hundreds of thousands through the territory’s streets and endured tear gas and pepper spray in pitched battles with riot police. Hong Kong’s pro-democracy supporters are now wielding a new protest weapon: their stock-market trading accounts. To show support for Jimmy Lai (黎智英), the publisher and outspoken government critic who was on Monday arrested under the territory’s new national security legislation, Hong Kongers have been piling into shares of his media company Next Digital. The result: a more than 1,100 percent surge in two days that propelled the stock to a seven-year