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.
OFF BORDER ISLAND: The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel wearing a life jacket and leaving behind his shoes, indicating an intentional move, Seoul said North Korean soldiers shot dead a suspected South Korean defector at sea and burned his body as a COVID-19 precaution after he was interrogated in the water over several hours, Seoul military officials said yesterday. It is the first killing of a South Korean citizen by North Korean forces for a decade, and comes with Pyongyang at high alert over the COVID-19 pandemic and inter-Korean relations at a standstill. The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel near the western border island of Yeonpyeong on Monday, the official said. More than 24 hours later, North Korean forces located him in their waters and
ACADEMIC FREEDOM: One professor told her students to submit anonymized papers and not to record any online classes. Some US schools have announced similar steps Students at Oxford University specializing in the study of China are being asked to submit some papers anonymously to protect them from the possibility of retribution under the sweeping new security law introduced three months ago in Hong Kong. The anonymity ruling is to be applied in classes, and group tutorials are to be replaced by one-to-ones. Students are also to be warned that it will be viewed as a disciplinary offence if they tape classes or share them with outside groups. The Hong Kong National Security Law was imposed on June 30 by Beijing after more than a year of pro-democracy
Japan’s government yesterday urged people to seek help if they were struggling to cope, following Sunday’s death of the popular actress and Miss Sherlock star Yuko Takeuchi, 40. News of her death shocked the nation and follows other recent cases of Japanese celebrities taking their lives, with figures showing a recent rise in suicides. Takeuchi was a household name in Japan and had given birth to her second child in January. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato did not mention a particular case, but said that some people were struggling to cope during the COVID-19 pandemic. “There has been an uptick in the number
The scarcity of commercial flights landing at Sydney Airport has been a disaster for airlines and workers, but for hobby pilots the COVID-19 pandemic has provided the opportunity of a lifetime. The quieter-than-usual runways mean that private pilots have been given the chance to land at the international airport for the first time. When Sydney Flight College club captain Tim Lindley put out a call, he received an overwhelming response. He eventually organized for 14 light aircraft to fly into Sydney airport on Sunday. “For a lot of the pilots involved, including myself, it was a childhood dream to land in a big