Originally born in Venezuela, she’s been calling the U.S. her home for many years - now it’s official!
Fireman Maria Perez Bas, crewmember at Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater’s Facilities Engineering department, took the Oath of Allegiance to become a U.S. citizen during a naturalization ceremony at the air station, July 20, 2012.
A Coast Guard crewmember since October 2010, Perez Bas said she has had the heart of an American since she was a toddler.
"I've been living here in the U.S. since I was four years old," said Perez Bas. "I consider the U.S. my home, and my country, so it was just time. With the help of my command and shipmates I finally buckled down and became a citizen."
There are only two ways to become a U.S. citizen: by law or by birth. If you are not born in the U.S., then you may seek to become one by naturalization. This administrative process requires an applicant to take part in a series of tests and interviews. The process is strictly governed by the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Since Perez Bas wasn’t born here, she had to apply for naturalization.
“The process is not difficult,” said Perez Bas. “The hardest part is the wait.”
She started the process in February 2012, although it is often the unfortunate assumption that a non U.S. citizen can’t join the U.S. military.
“Since I am already enlisted, many people I talk to are often confused when I tell them I am becoming a citizen,” said Perez Bas.
The Coast Guard not only accepted her into the service, but encouraged and aided her to become a citizen.
“In fact, the recruiting manual states, an immigrant alien who is admitted to the U.S. as a legal permanent resident with no prior military service, may apply for an enlisted position in the Coast Guard if they read, write and speak English fluently,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Erin Everson, Coast Guard recruiter for the Tampa Bay area. “To re-enlist, an immigrant alien must become a U.S. citizen.”
Perez Bas’s Grandfather, who also served as a former U.S. Air Force member, often steered her in the direction of military service.
“One day, I just called a Coast Guard recruiter and asked if I could join, and I haven’t looked back since,” said Perez Bas. “I joined the service because I was tired of the direction my life was going. I wanted a change and to make a difference.”
According to her command, Perez Bas has made a difference by being not just motivated in her personal achievements, but her professional work ethic is also highly commended. She is also proving to be a role model for other shipmates in similar situations.
“It's very inspiring and comforting to know that Maria stayed focused, determined and passionate about becoming a U.S. citizen,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Charles Wimberly, supervisor of Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater Facility Engineering department. “I'm sure that she'll serve as a phenomenal role model for other shipmates that are also in the process of becoming U.S. citizens.”
In the mean time, Perez Bas said her job won't change as of now, but becoming a U.S. citizen will allow for more opportunities in the Coast Guard. Now that she achieved this milestone in her life, she'll be able to apply for her security clearance. She is pursuing a career as an information specialist and that job field requires U.S. citizenship.
“As a citizen I have greater choices to which job I wish to pursue in the Coast Guard and ultimately, I wish to become a warrant officer,” said Perez Bas. “I want to make the Coast Guard a career, so my career advancement was one the greatest factors that motivated me to become a citizen as quickly as possible.”
She said serving in the Coast Guard is a great honor and privilege for her.
“She has been a great asset to Coast Guard before the finalization of her citizenship,” said Wimberly. “I think now that she has crossed this bridge in her life, she'll be able direct all of her attention on furthering her career in the Coast Guard and be an up-and-coming leader through the ranks.”
Perez Bas also has advice for other shipmates going thru the same situation.
“Talk to your command," said Perez Bas. "I have found my command has been the most helpful with completing this process and I am sure it would have taken me much longer without their help."
I am happy to voluntarily serve the country, which has opened its doors to me and my family, allowing us to make it our home, said Perez Bas.
“In 20 years I want look back and be proud of all the choices I have made in my life,” said Perez Bas.
The Coast Guard has three core values: honor, respect and devotion to duty. Through her actions, Perez Bas has met and exceeded all three and is now finally a citizen of the country she always called home.