By Sgt. 1st Class Jason Kriess, Washington National Guard
Standing in a room filled with family, friends and colleagues, 64 people raised their right hands and swore an allegiance to the United States of America to become naturalized citizens at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Seattle on Tuesday, July 17.
Among those was Pfc. Aquiles R. Morales Centeno, a member of the Washington National Guard.
“Becoming a citizen is great because it’s going to help me and my family,” Morales said. “I’m also going to be able to vote and have the rights that all Americans have.”
Morales, a supply specialist, is part of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment, 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Kent. His hard work and initiative immediately drew the attention of his incoming commander, Capt. Jordan Villeneuve.
Villeneuve worked a lot with Morales during his change of command inventory and was shocked to learn that he was not yet a U.S. citizen.
“He came across as just another member of the team,” Villeneuve said. “He was doing his part and pulling his own weight, which was awesome”
Getting his citizenship puts a cap on a journey that began for Morales in 2012.
Morales, a Nicaraguan native, was in school to earn a degree in construction management and traveled frequently to visit his mother who lives here in Washington. But the cost of so much travel was proving to be too much.
“At one point, I said that this is a lot of money going back and forth,” Morales said. “So I decided to stay here and work.”
After working for a couple years and taking care of his ailing mother, who suffers from arthritis, Morales was still dreaming of returning to finish his degree but was struggling with how to pay for it. That’s when he discovered the National Guard.
“I looked at the [regular] Army but they typically decide where you are going to go next. The same thing with the other active services,” Morales said.
But only the Washington National Guard offered him the stability of remaining in the state of Washington as well as choosing his career – unit supply specialist.
“That’s what this is all about – being a part of a team regardless of what your background is,” Villeneuve said.