ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Md. -- “Life without the breath of liberty is no life.” Those were the words that inspired Senior Airman Papa Faal in his quest to fulfill a childhood dream—to become a U.S. citizen.
From The Gambia, one of the smallest countries in the western part of Africa, the 459th Military Personnel Flight relocations specialist explained that it was a privilege becoming a U.S. citizen.
“Even though my country enjoys a longstanding stability, its economic progress has not been enough to lend us deserving opportunities,” Faal said.
He explained there were a number of reasons why he chose to become a U.S. citizen.
“Number one, I wanted to be a part of a nation that sees everyone as equals, and fights to bring about the ideals of democracy around the world to those who need it,” Faal said. “Number two, I find in this country opportunities that I cannot find anywhere in the world, and number three, I have the opportunity to serve in the greatest military in the world.”
Like many others, Faal initially viewed military service as an opportunity to further his education, but he soon developed a passion for what he was doing and the mission he supported. Because of his newfound desire to cultivate his military career and provide support to an organization he sincerely believed in, he saw becoming a citizen as a plus.
“Being a citizen gives me the ability to contribute fully to my unit and to the force,” Faal said, “and it propels my career to the fullest.
After taking the oath of citizenship on December 6, 2005, Faal explained that a new feeling of “inclusiveness” lives within him now.
“The basic foundation of democracy is inclusiveness,” he said. “I now feel included in the democratic process and feel that my voice counts. I did not enjoy that liberty before.”
His quest to become a citizen came with patience though.
“The normal process of becoming a citizen involves first becoming a permanent resident and holding that residency for five years,” Faal explained. “After the fifth year, an application for naturalization can be submitted. The process itself takes about nine to 18 months after submitting an application.”
But Faal encourages any military member with aspirations to become a U.S. citizen to just do it.
“My advice would be to go ahead and apply to become a citizen, and don’t waste time,” he said. “In the military, being a citizen opens a lot of doors for advancement. For whatever reason that one may have for being in the military, becoming a citizen will only propel those reasons forward.”
Faal is already opening the door on furthering his education and intends on advancing his military career as well.
“I am currently a network manager in an IT department, and I am pursuing my Masters in Technology Management with the intentions to progress to become a CIO [chief information officer],” he explained. “In the military, I will be putting a package together to become a commissioned officer, and hope to progress through the ranks in the years to come.”
Faal admits that The Gambia will always hold a special place in his heart, but becoming a U.S. citizen has offered him an enormous opportunity for a “better life, self progress and self development.”
“My country will always be a part of me, and everything that goes on over there will be of my concern, but as a person of foreign descent [in the U.S.], I know the value of liberty because I have, and know people who have lived in both worlds,” he said. “We in the U.S. must cherish what we have here and never take it for granted.
“No constitution in this world gives more to its people like that of the U.S. That is why we must defend it at all costs. I am proud to be an American, and most of all, I am honored to be a member of the United States Air Force.”