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 same.
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 Sieben.
Pvt. Diego Garcia, an Army Reserve Soldier in basic combat training with Company A, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment at Fort Jackson, S.C., pulls security at the hand grenade assault course, Oct. 19.
“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.
“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 here,”
Pvt. Rolando Swaby, an Army Reserve Soldier in basic combat training with Company A, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment at Fort Jackson, S.C., takes aim at his target at the hand grenade assault course, Oct. 19.
For Sieben, it’s not just about the Soldiers that she trains and leads. It’s a much more personal meaning.
“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.
Pvt. Diego Garcia, an Army Reserve Soldier in basic combat training with Company A, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment at Fort Jackson, S.C., takes aim at his target at the hand grenade assault course, Oct. 19.
“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 service members 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.
Pvt. Rolando Swaby, an Army Reserve Soldier in basic combat training with Company A, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment at Fort Jackson, S.C., tosses a hand grenade into a bunker at the hand grenade assault course, Oct. 19.
“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 something new.”
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.
Pvt. Diego 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 years.
Pvt. Diego Garcia, an Army Reserve Soldier in basic combat training with Company A, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment at Fort Jackson, S.C., tosses a hand grenade into the air at the hand grenade assault course, Oct. 19.
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 but.
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 life.
“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 Garcia.
He is hoping his mother will be present at his big day when graduates basic training and becomes an American Soldier.
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 Nov. 17. The day prior, Swaby along with 13 other Soldiers swore their allegiance to the nation and are now U.S. Citizens.