TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE — Two airmen, one who wants to be a pilot and the other who hopes to be a master sergeant, became U.S. citizens Friday in a military naturalization ceremony.
Airmen 1st Class Prabesh Karki, 25, and Darrell Despojo, 20, took the oath of allegiance administered by Ramon Castillo, acting district director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“You came here as immigrants, you joined the military,” Castillo told the airmen. “Now you’re taking that next step.”
Col. Corey J. Martin, commander of the 60th Air Mobility Wing at Travis Air Force Base, noted former President George W. Bush’s statement in 2001 during his first inaugural address.
“America has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests and teach us what it means to be citizens,” Bush said during the inaugural. “Every immigrant, by embracing these ideals, makes our country more, not less, American.”
Karki came to the United States as a 17-year-old from Nepal to attend Thomas More Prep-Marian in Kansas. He met his wife, who is also from Nepal, in America. “She’s happy,” Karki said of his citizenship.
What Karki had known about America came courtesy of Hollywood.
“We get our information mostly from the movies,” Karki said.
Everybody is rich and big buildings line the streets, the airman said of the images. What he saw here was different.
“They’re not rich people everywhere,” Karki said. “Everybody has to go to work.”
Despojo came to America five years ago from the Philippines with his family.
“You’ve got more rights,” he said of the United States. “The life is just so much better.”
His motivation to be a citizen was simple.
“I want to be an American,” Despojo said. “I want to be part of America.”
Fairfield resident Steve Burns, 53, who retired as a chief master sergeant after 28 years in the U.S. Air Force, works at Travis Air Force Base and attended the military naturalization ceremony. In 1967, as a 7-year-old, Burns, an orphan from Italy where his name was Gainfraco Orbese, became a U.S. citizen. He and his family lived in Manchester, Ky., where decades ago Protestants didn’t take to Italian-American Catholics, Burns recounted.
“To say they didn’t like us was an understatement,” Burns said. The family had Mass said in their home.
After seeing the military naturalization ceremony for Karki and Despojo, he said the saga of immigrants to America endures. It’s the same story of people coming to the United States, Burns said.
Travis Air Force Base said legal permanent residents can enlist in the military but must be a citizen to serve as an officer.
Reach Ryan McCarthy at 427-6935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.