*Editors note: Despite multiple tours to Iraq, Mr Martin Bauer was almost deported. This is all too common for our brothers and sisters serving. Below is the first hand account of the author, and his joinery to become a citizen. Despite the adversity, he never gave up. His patriotism is in keeping with the true meaning of American Grit. I served with him in Iraq, and can verify the story. Enjoy.
A Combat Veteran’s Struggle to Become a Citizen
By: Martin Bauer
2008, Camp Lejuene, NC – I always enjoyed the post Field Op rhythm, especially as the Company Operations NCO. It singled the end to weeks of mind numbing packing. Today, I was “persuading” some friends at the HQ to do favors for my unit, involving printing leave forms. Otherwise, I was just idling in the Company Office thinking of my latest excuse to avoid the inevitable talk with the re-enlistment advisor. I really did not have much else to do. Then suddenly, everything changed.
I was shook out of my reverie by the bang of the opening door at the other end of the Company Office as our Battalion Sergeant Major (SgtMaj) strode in barking, “First Sergeant!”
He was out of his office in a flash and replying, “Yes Sergeant Major?”
SgtMaj growled, “Who the hell is Bauer?? Someone shit me that Marine right now.” My First Sergeant reaction was an instant finger point directly at me, I reflexively popped out of my chair at Parade Rest ready for whatever would come next.
“Get your ass upstairs to the BC’s office now, Corporal,” SgtMaj sneered.
“Aye Sergeant Major,” I was already moving. I could feel both of them following behind me “Oh fuck,” was the only thought in my mind, it followed me up the stairs all the way to the front door of his wood paneled office.
Meeting with “the man”
“Come in Corporal,” came the voice of my Battalion Commander (BC). Now, a million different scenarios were hurtling through my head, and none of them particularly pleasant. A pregnant pause hung between us as the Sergeant Major moved to take up position next to the old man’s desk; my body and mind ran on autopilot as I snapped to attention.
“Corporal Bauer reporting as ordered Sir,” I remarked instinctually. There was more silence, but the sharp intake of breath through the SgtMaj’s nose gave me a heartbeat of warning.
“Corporal, why in the fuck is a State Senator from Florida calling the Battalion Commander, and accusing this Battalion of taking away your chance to be a US Citizen?” the SgtMaj said threateningly. Even with 3 and half years of skating under my belt, I had to admit the question took me aback.
“I do not know Sergeant Major,” I replied quickly.
“Well he says your Mother emailed him, is that true,” he rebuffed.
“I do not know Sergeant Major,” but visions of a photograph of a blue letter danced through my head. The headline had read “Due to failure to appear, you are hereby advised that your request for Citizenship is denied.”
My Battalion Commander Spoke “Are you a US Citizen?”
“No Sir,” I replied truthfully.
“And why the hell not? You some sort of Illegal?” growled my Sergeant Major, the BC’s right hand man. The anger at a potential Battalion embarrassment written on his face.
“Because I missed my appointment for the final interview to become a citizen, Sergeant Major,” I replied smoothly. However, in a moment of clarity I realized why I was here, and I grew furious. Being from Germany, I was not an American citizen yet.
“Why?” more a growl then a question flopped from SgtMaj’s mouth.
“Because I was ordered to attend Mojave Viper instead by my chain of command Sergeant Major,” I snapped. If I could have seen the face of my First Sergeant at this moment, I am sure it would have appeared shocked. He never saw the bus coming that I had just pushed him in front of.
“How many tours is this for you?” My Battalion Commander asked. He didn’t seem mad, moreover he appeared calm. No doubt he fielded calls from all sorts of politicians, or worried parents every day. As a result, this didn’t seem to phase him.
“About to go on my third one in four years Sir,” I replied.
The BC said, “Corporal, if we get you an appointment in the next three weeks will you miss it?”
“No Sir,” I replied firmly. Although, I wanted to add more. I wanted to tell him that they could mark me as AWOL if they tried to stop me again, no way was I not getting my recognition.
“You had damn well better not,” growled my Sergeant Major in needless emphasis.
The BC said, “Dismissed Corporal, First Sergeant a moment for me and the Sergeant Major.” I had never popped smoke faster in my life. I still remember making my way out of the Battalion Office hearing the Sergeant Major start up by saying, “What the fuck is wrong with you! That Marine is on his third tour and you almost cost him his Citizenship, and a State Senator calls…”
Taking the steps two at a time I thought now was a pretty good time to disappear to chow.
A dream realized
A week before my third tour to Iraq, I was in Raleigh, North Carolina. This is when I had the great honor of raising my right hand for only the second time in my life, and officially became an American Citizen.
I am to this day both grateful to my Battalion for pulling string to make that happen, and my Mother for using what little contacts she had to make a State Senator, Mike Fasano, aware of my case. As a former “Green Card Warrior” I can tell you I had no reservations about joining, and I volunteered to be in the Infantry. While I was never the best Marine, I like a lot of others struggled to get our Citizenship, the DOD is not concerned with this process.
While it certainly exists, it is a flawed, slow, and all too often a system prone to failure. Enlisted and Officer Leadership has a responsibility to insure that their immigrant service members get every opportunity to gain citizenship, to be recognized for the loyalty, their service, and the sacrifice they make signing up when only very limited options exist for them. However, immigrant Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines have a duty and a right as well to insure the process is followed.
To the immigrants currently serving
Additionally, stick up for yourselves! You are not demanding anything that is out of your reach, and should your chain of command fail to do right by you, you have every right to reach out to your government representatives to make it right. Sadly there are still cases of Veterans who have been deported, those who never gained Citizenship through service, because despite the fact that this exists, it is not the law of the land. This is a change that I still await to recognize the sacrifice of all those who have taken this road. Furthermore, to bring those who have been deported after their service home alive, and not in a box for their own funerals. This being the way many immigrants retuned home from Iraq, and Afghanistan. They never got the chance to become a citizen.
On behalf of all the immigrants who served, to those who are just signing up to serve in whichever capacity you choose:
Welcome to the greatest nation in the world, Welcome Home!
Do you have a story that shows the meaning of American Grit? Send the editor an email at Dan.Sharp@GruntStyle.com