A tear born from pride forms in the eye of a young man as he finally achieves his lifelong goal. As a young boy, he played on the beaches in Cardenas, Cuba; as man, he serves the U.S. Coast Guard with only one wish – to become a citizen of the country he loves. His wish came true.
Seaman Alayn Hernandez, crewmember aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Joshua Appleby, homeported in St. Petersburg, Fla., took the Oath of Allegiance to become a citizen during a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization ceremony aboard the Appleby, on June 21, 2013.
“I want to thank the Coast Guard for allowing me to serve with this Coast Guard family,” Hernandez said. “This has been the best year of my life."
Hernandez had tears of joy glassing his eyes while a grin spread from ear-to-ear after the shipboard ceremony concluded. He said watching USCIS members administer the oath was a memory-making event, especially after a year of intensive study and paperwork.
"I have waited for this day my whole life," said Hernandez. “I am happy and extremely proud to finally have this day.”
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 a citizen by naturalization which is governed by the Immigration and Nationality Act. The process requires an applicant to take a series of tests and participate in interviews.
“I have never seen a man more proud than Hernandez on the day of his naturalization,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Peters, Hernandez’s supervisor. “He has boldly preformed since then with a new bounce in his step.”
Hernandez enlisted in the Coast Guard Jan. 27, 2012. His passion for America and the Coast Guard are evident in everything he says.
“I joined the Coast Guard because I always wanted to do something that mattered, something that would make a difference,” he said. “I wanted my family, friends, and everyone who knows me to see me wearing the uniform, and think I’m doing something great not everyone has the guts to do.”
The crew also benefits from having Hernandez aboard as it allows them to be more culturally aware of what a foreigner has to go through to become a citizen. Many members of his crew speak highly of Hernandez and offer high praise.
"Hernandez has always impressed me with his 'can do' attitude and outstanding work ethic, but what’s been most impressive is his willingness to serve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States before he was a citizen," said Chief Warrant Officer Neal J. Feustel, the commanding officer of the Appleby.
Feustel seemed as honored to have Hernandez as a crewmember as Hernandez is to serve as a Coast Guardsman.
"I am honored to serve alongside such a dedicated Coast Guardsman and a true patriot,” said Feustel. “I look forward to watching him continue to grow both personally and professionally - the sky is his only limit!"
Since enlisting 18 months ago, Hernandez says he has learned a lot and accomplished many goals.
“It has not been easy, but then again if it were, it wouldn't be worth it,” he said.
In the future, he aspires to reach new leadership positions. However, he has some short-term goals as well.
“In the near future I plan to attend 'A' school. I placed my name on the machinery technician school list back in January 2013, and it's moving a lot faster than I expected, so I'm quite nervous,” he said,
He’s also clear on his future goals.
“I always wanted to be an officer,” said Hernandez. “I believe I could do a lot of good if I were to lead and have a chance to make an even more positive impact on other people's lives.”
One thing is clear. Hernandez exudes gratitude.
“Above all, I want to thank my wife for being with me through everything - for always pushing me forward and helping me survive this year and a half, thank you so much,” he said,.
Through his determination and perseverance, Hernandez was able to realize his goal of becoming a citizen of the country he always knew would be his home. That’s one reason his commanding officer thinks he will be successful in future endeavors as well.