Offutt hosts its first naturalization ceremony

  • Published
  • By 55th Wing Public Affairs

Team Offutt officially welcomed two new naturalized citizens of the United States during its first naturalization ceremony at the 55th Wing Staff Judge Advocate office at Offutt Air Force Base Oct. 5, 2022.

Two Airmen were sworn in just weeks after first submitting a package through a new joint program between the 55th Wing JA office and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“This means a lot to me because this was something that really motivated me,” said Airman 1st Class Behula Asuncion Avila, 55th Health Care Operations Squadron. “Being a citizen makes me feel like I really belong where I live.”

“This means the world to me,” said Airman 1st Class Eduardo Gonzalez Garcia, 55th Logistics Readiness Squadron. “Coming from a third world country, immigrating here with my family, and being the first in my family to become a citizen.”

Both Airmen originally hail from Mexico and have been waiting more than 10 years to become citizens.

“There were a lot of bumps in the road along the way,” Asuncion Avila said.

“There was a point in time where I didn’t think it was going to happen,” Gonzalez Garcia said.

The inaugural ceremony is the culmination of many months of planning between the USCIS and 55th Wing JA.

“USCIS communicated their desire to prioritize military members and relayed to the 55th Wing JA some of the difficulties military members were having when trying to complete the current process,” said 1st Lt. Daniel Ko, 55th Wing JA. “Together, through various meetings we established how each office could best serve one another.”

Working closely with the USCIS, JA streamlined the application process by offering a one-stop shop for applicants, cutting wait times down by 50%.

“Some military members found the current process difficult to navigate and on average the entire process from approval to the final oath could take more than four months to accomplish,” Ko said.

Applicants can now complete their application and submit a package directly with the aid of a JAG facilitating their process the entire way. This eliminates the need for the member to go to a USCIS office.

“JA will be involved from the initial approval package phase where we will help facilitate the package’s preparation alongside the member to ensure it is approved properly,” Ko said. “Then, USCIS will reach out to JA as soon as the package is complete and from there JA can cut what was upwards of a six-week queue down to one week.”

In addition, the optional name change application process for qualifying members is also being cut by 90 days thanks to the new JA program.

“I’m very grateful for this experience,” Asuncion Avila said. “The people who work [in JA] really do want to help.”

“Once I was in the JA program, it was smooth sailing,” said Gonzalez Garcia.

Ko said he hopes to streamline the process even more by reaching out to Airmen as soon as they begin their application so he can help facilitate the process from its inception. He also hopes to expand their program to other military installations in the area that do not offer it.

“This program is largely still in its infancy stages,” Ko said. “Our hope here at Offutt is to establish a well-polished method to then aid in the standardization and implementation of this program at its full capacity at these bases and others that are interested in partaking.”

Currently, Offutt is among roughly seven other Air Force bases and approximately 10 Army posts offering this service.

For more information on how to apply for naturalized citizenship, call 402-294-3668.

The ceremony can be viewed here.