Airman Moreno's Path To Citizenship
by U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Kalee Sexton
Since immigrating to the U.S. in 2007,
Airman 1st Class Manuel Moreno has learned to push through any
obstacle to reach his goals, always keeping his faith that things
will work out.
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Manuel Moreno
wears a protective face mask as he and fellow airmen march in formation during basic military training graduation at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas
in March 2020. Moreno, now an electrical systems technician in the 19th Civil Engineer Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base, received his citizenship in July 2021 after initially starting the process in December 2020. (Image
created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Air Force photo by Johnny Saldivar.)
Moreno, an electrical systems technician in
the 19th Civil Engineer Squadron, started his life in Sonora, a
state in Northern Mexico on the southern border of Arizona. When he
was 12, his family decided it was time to move to Tucson to be
closer to relatives who lived in that area.
wasn’t much different for him in the U.S., he said the biggest
change was the language and he was happy to be reunited with family
After high school, he worked odd jobs around the
city, but he never felt fulfilled.
“I needed a challenge,
something I’m not going to get tired of doing every single day,” he
In March of 2020, Moreno found that challenge ... joining
the U.S. Air Force.
“I always felt like I’ve never done
enough. I look at my friends and I feel like they’ve gone so far in
life while I was working normal jobs and not doing anything with my
life,” Moreno said. “So when I took the oath of enlistment, I felt
like I had finally done something I could be proud of.”
becoming a U.S. citizen was something he had considered, it wasn’t a
top priority for him — until he learned that his immigration status
made him ineligible to deploy. That’s when he decided to take a
serious look at the process.
Section 329 of the Immigration
and Nationality Act allows eligible military members who have served
during periods of hostility to become U.S. citizens. According to
the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, the country has been
in a period of hostility since Sept. 1, 2001. This act gave Moreno
the resources he needed to seek citizenship.
an Airman made it easier for him, Moreno said the process was still
“You have to get everything right otherwise
you just get denied and they move onto the next person,” he said.
In fact, he had initially started the process in December 2020,
but his paperwork was lost, so he redid everything and submitted
again in April 2021. From there, he said, everything went quickly.
At first, he was told it would take 12-17 months for everything to
go through, but in July 2021, he was asked to go to Tennessee for
his citizenship interview and swearing-in ceremony.
taking the Oath of Enlistment, taking the Oath of Allegiance was a
milestone for Moreno.
“I saw it as something that had to be
done so I could deploy and do my job overseas,” he said. “I want the
full experience, not just being here. I’m a guy who likes
challenges. I want to get to know places and meet different people
and get to know their stories.”
His perseverance paid off,
because as soon as his unit found out he had gained citizenship,
they jumped at the opportunity to task him with a deployment.
Moreno said he felt called to serve to give back to the country
that has given so much to him and his family.
immigrant, it was my way of paying back to the country for letting
me stay here,” he said. “On the other hand, my grandma always wanted
to see us in uniform. When she passed away, I thought ‘That’s my
Moreno said his grandma is his biggest inspiration for
everything he’s accomplished. Although his grandmother is no longer
alive today, Moreno said he continues to try to live a life that
would make his grandma proud.
“I know she’s always watching
over me,” he said.
Moreno — who says he plans to serve at
least 20 years in the Air Force — is now looking to study
kinesiology or nutrition in college, saying he enjoys taking care of
himself and wants to help people be physically healthy. After
earning his degree, he wants to look into becoming an officer,
believing he will be able to guide and mentor more people.
Although he loves his current job, he said he would be happy with
any job as an officer.
“I know I’ll be helping others
regardless of the career field,” Moreno said.
meantime, he knows he can help people who are taking the same path
he did towards citizenship.
“I feel like my story can be
motivation for people who are exactly where I was,” he said. “I can
give them insight into what it was like and how to deal with it. If
they have any questions, they can come talk to me and I’ll help
guide them and counsel them because it’s hard.”
the hardest thing to deal with is hitting a barrier, but he knows
first-hand that hard work and perseverance pays off in the end.
“Just keep working toward your goals until you reach them,” he
said. “My grandma always said you have to stay true to yourself and
never lose your ground.”
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