Throughout its 240-year history, the United States has been known
as the Great American Melting Pot.
With a diverse population
of more than 320 million, its citizens represent just about every
nation and culture on the planet, its Military is no different.
Soldiers serving with the Army and Army Reserve are no
different. While coming from many different walks of life, they may
sound and appear different, the reality is that they're all the
They share a great love for this Nation and take pride
in their service. With the prospect of a brighter future always
forefront in their minds, the common thread that bonds them all is
the pursuit of their American dream.
Army Drill Sergeant,
Staff Sgt. Akia Sieben, of Company A, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry
Regiment at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, is a first generation
American, but she isn't the first person in her family to serve in
the U.S. Army.
Her mother came to the U.S. from Jamaica when
she was 17. “She graduated high school and joined the Army,” said
“She felt like she owed something to America. She
felt that she wanted to do something to sublimely let the country
know that she appreciated the opportunity she was afforded.”
In that aspect, Sieben sees a connection with many of the Soldiers
under her charge.
October 19, 2016 -
Army Drill Sergeant, Staff Sgt. Akia Sieben assist Pvt. Diego
Garcia, an Army Reserve Soldier, both with basic combat training
Company A, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment at Fort Jackson, SC
during the hand grenade assault course. (U.S. Army Reserve
photo by Sgt. Stephanie Hargett)
“When I see Soldiers that come from other countries to
better enhance their American dream, I think it shows a lot
of pride,” said Sieben. “It definitely shows a big sense of
selfless service and that's an army value that we live by.
Because they came to a country that they don't know and a
country that doesn't really know them. They decided to put
their life on the line as if they were born and raised
For Sieben, it's not just about the Soldiers
that she trains and leads. It's a much more personal
“Just to see that that's the same
thing that my mother did, came from another country, loved
America and decided serve her country. I see that in these
Soldiers that come here,” said Sieben. “I see my mother in
them, I see myself in them, and I see that we all just want
a great place to live and a great place to raise our
children, this is the way we decided to do it and I salute
them for that.”
Pvt. Rolando Swaby, an Army Reserve
Soldier in basic combat training with Company A, 1st
Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment at Fort Jackson, and
citizen of Jamaica, recently left his family behind to join
his father and uncle in Kansas City, Missouri. Shortly
thereafter he left for the army.
“I joined because my
family started growing. My wife, she's pregnant,” said
Swaby. “I wanted to go to school, but I needed the
assistance to do it. Since I'm not a citizen yet, it also
helps me become naturalized and help my family better.”
Through the Naturalization at Basic Training Initiative,
Soldiers who are not U.S. citizens are given the opportunity
to become naturalized when they graduate from basic combat
training. More than 60,000 servicemembers have participated
in the program since its implementation in 2009.
Swaby served as a law enforcement officer back in Jamaica,
but decided to sign up as a medic in the Army Reserve.
“Most of this stuff (military training) I've been
through a lot,” said Swaby. “I just wanted to change it up,
because it was rough being a police [sic]. I wanted to learn
The first in his family to serve in
the U.S. Army plans to major in business in college so that
one day he can start his own company.
Garcia, also an Army Reserve Soldier with of Company A, 1st
Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment at Fort Jackson has been
back and forth between Mexico and Texas in the last 11
The son of Mexican immigrants, Garcia says
his parents divorced when he was in second grade. Because of
the divorce his mother should have moved back to Mexico due
to her citizenship status, but chose to stay in order to
give her children the opportunity of a better education and
ultimately a better life.
That same year she crossed
the border to visit his grandparents in Mexico, says Garcia.
Upon returning she was not permitted back into the US.
“I remember my grandparents came to pick me up and they
wouldn't tell me anything,” said Garcia. “We went to the
house to pack a little luggage and we left to Mexico.”
Garcia and his family moved to Valle Hermoso, which
means Beautiful Valley; according to him it was anything
According to a 2011 Stanford University Survey,
organized crime related deaths increased by 290% between
2010 to 2011 in Valle Hermoso.
“This one time I was
in middle school, my second year, we were in a class room
and all of a sudden we hear shots fired,” said Garcia.
“There was a point when teachers started teaching how to
do the prone position, kind of like how we do when they say
grenade and you get to the ground. So we're in the classroom
and the classrooms are open. It's open with windows
all-around so we had to learn how to do the prone positions
which is called pecho a tierra, which means chest to ground.
Everyone falls to the floor until they are done.”
After this and many other acts of violence the family
decided it was time to leave and start over somewhere else.
“At first it was really shocking, then it became the
norm,” said Garcia. “There were a lot killings, a lot of
kidnappings and a lot of people ran away to safety. That's
when I moved up here to South Texas with my father.”
Due to Garcia and his mother being separated for the last 6
years she has missed out on many important moments in his
“My mom hasn't really seen me walk when I
graduated from high school, my military ball, my prom, all
of those big things that a mom would be proud of,” said
He is hoping his mother will be present at
his big day when graduates basic training and becomes an
With graduation just days away for
Swaby and Garcia, basic combat training has not only
transformed the two from citizens to Soldiers, it's helped
them achieve their American dream.
“I don't know if
that's how the other Soldiers feel, but I can only imagine
their sense of pride when they're walking across that field
knowing not only are they going to get a chance to serve
their country but they're going to be an American citizen
after the process is complete,” Sieben said.
Note: Both Swaby and Garcia graduated
basic combat training on November 17, 2016. The day prior, Swaby
along with 13 other Soldiers swore their allegiance to the nation
and are now U.S. Citizens.
By U.S. Army Sgt. Stephanie Hargett
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