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National Citizenship Day

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MARCOA Media
Story by LCpl Jacob Bertram on 09/19/2019
Serving in the United States military offers the opportunity to work alongside a very unique and diverse group of individuals hailing from countries and nations spread out all around the globe.

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Elbo Lokebol has served nearly three years in the military working faithfully as an administrative specialist on Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, and he's done it all in service to a country that is not officially his own.

During recruit training there was an error with Lokebol's paperwork that prevented him from gaining his citizenship.

"It wasn't until after boot camp that I discovered I still was not a U.S. citizen," said Lokebol.

Lokebol was born in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a nation containing 1156 tropical islands and islets and lived there until he was three years old. At age three, Lokebol moved to Hawaii and lived there until he joined the United States Marine Corps at 18.

"The main reason why I joined [the Marine Corps], is because nobody believed in me back home," said Lokebol. "They said I can't do anything so I wanted to prove them wrong."

Thanks to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, immigrants can join and serve within the United States armed-forces to gain their U.S. citizenship. If you serve during a time of war you can apply for citizenship as early as your very first day of service. The requirements applicants have to complete include being able to read, write, and speak English, as well as passing a test on American history and government. Since Sept. 11, 2001, almost 70,000 men and women have gained their citizenship this way according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

"I think the way the Marine Corps helps you gain citizenship is very beneficial," said Lokebol. "It encouraged me to join the Marine Corps."

If the U.S. is in peacetime, military members must serve at least one full year and must get a green card before they can obtain citizenship. They do still qualify for advantages over non-military personnel by being required to have their green card only for a single year before they can apply for citizenship versus others having to have it for 5 years.

If you have already been discharged from military service you may still be able to gain your citizenship through your service. First of all, you must have been discharged honorably. Next, you must have been discharged within six months of applying, if not you'll have to apply through the regular five-year process.

According to Lokebol, he wants to get his citizenship as soon as possible so that he will be able to re-enlist. Without his citizenship, Lokebol isn't able to go on deployments or hold any kind of security clearance.

"My main goal has been to re-enlist in the Marine Corps," said Lokebol. "If I can't then what's all of this been for."

Later this year, Lokebol will be attending a ceremony in Raleigh, N.C., to gain his citizenship.

"My parents will be very proud of me if I get my citizenship," said Lokebol. "It's the whole reason we moved, so we can get a better life here."
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