Legal Immigrants: Airmen's Path to Citizenship

Senior Airman Sergio Espinoza Airman 1st Class Brendon Enriquez

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- For many, joining the Air Force is as simple as visiting the nearest recruiter. For Senior Airman Sergio Espinoza and Airman 1st Class Brendon Enriquez, 2nd Bomb Wing military justice paralegals, the journey began across the globe.

In 2003, Espinoza departed El Salvador with his mother to pursue a better quality of life and a more stable future. He arrived in Arlington, Virginia, where he lived for 10 years.

"Growing up near our nation's capital played a big role in my appreciation for the United States' traditions and fostered my respect for the military," he said.

Living in Arlington, Espinoza visited the Air Force memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and others.

"[They] were eye-opening and became key driving forces in my decision to join the military - motivating me toward my ultimate dream of becoming an American," he said.

Espinoza joined the Air Force in 2013, and with help from other Airmen, he carefully put together a citizenship package. He was later interviewed, passed an American history test, and took the Oath of Allegiance and was presented with a Certificate of Citizenship.

"My biggest accomplishments thus far are becoming an American and serving my country alongside every single one of you. I can now, officially and proudly, say I am an American Airman," he said.

Espinoza didn't only gain American citizenship, but demonstrated excellence by winning the 2014 Air Force Global Strike Command Outstanding Paralegal Airman of the Year Award.

But he isn't the only immigrant to join Barksdale's legal team.

Brendon Enriquez was born and raised in the Philippines where his family struggled to make money. With frequent earthquakes and typhoons, Enriquez received a positive first impression of Americans as military members placed themselves in harm's way to help those in need.

"Every time I saw the American flag, I felt safe and knew things would get better for my family," he said. "The flag gave me a sense of hope, and I was extremely grateful for the relief efforts - so much so that I wanted to give back to the United States any way I could."

For Enriquez and his family, America represented a land of opportunity and he followed his American dream by enlisting in the Air Force.

He's thankful the Air Force has given him mentors who instill professionalism and guided him down the path to citizenship, which would give him many additional rights, including the right to vote.

"The pride and joy of finally reaching my dream to be an American was overwhelming, and I could not help but be thankful," he said. "I've always been proud to serve in the United States Air Force, but now it means so much more. I officially feel like I belong here now; the United States is truly my home."

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