NEWPORT NEWS, Virginia – It was a graduation day two Filipinos will never forget. Not only did they graduate in the U.S. Army with the highest honors, they became US citizens in just a matter of months.
Twenty-seven year old specialist Christian Albert De Leon received the Distinguished Honor Graduate award during a US Army commencement exercise in Newport News on Thursday.
De Leon came to the US in 2010 as a dependent of his wife’s H-1B work visa as a public school teacher in Maryland.
His wife’s work visa was about to expire when he was recruited by the U.S. Army through its Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, or MAVNI Program in 2013.
MAVNI is a recruiting program that allows certain legal, non-U.S. citizens with critical language and culture to enlist in the Army.
Tagalog speakers is one of the 44 strategic languages the Army is recruiting for. Once in the ten-week program, the soldier gets expedited citizenship processing.
De Leon became a US citizen in just three months, bypassing the lengthy green card process.
"Sa ngayon mas maliwanag po ang nakikita ko sa aking pamilya," said De Leon.
"They’re trying to bring in more culture from other countries to make the US military stronger," said Giessen Cruzado, a US Army graduate.
Twenty-six year old Cruzado came to the US on an F-1 student visa in 2005. He became a US citizen in just two months after being accepted in the Army through the MAVNI program. He also graduated under the commander’s list for being a model soldier.
Both men who plan to become Army officers in the future said they were inspired by the recent achievement of Capt. Ronald Ravelo, the first Filipino-American commanding officer of aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.
"If anything, I would like to think that I represent tremendous amount of dedication and hard work, studying. Anybody that comes in the front door of this organization can rise to any level and can become themselves the captain of an aircraft carrier," Capt. Ravelo said.
Both De Leon and Cruzado will now work for the Army as cargo specialists, moving military equipment and delivering supplies throughout the world.
The MAVNI Program also applies to certain medical personnel such as nurses and doctors. Immigration experts said MAVNI recruits have an eight-year contractual commitment to the military, including non-active service.
Naturalization can be revoked if an applicant does not serve at least five years.
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