Non-citizens joining the ranks of the U.S. military is nothing new. As a matter of fact, they made up a quarter of the Union Army during the Civil War, according to Slate. Permanent residents are required to register with the Selective Service and can be called on to serve in times of war, so voluntary enlistment in the Army is encouraged. Non-citizens aren't eligible to serve in all Army capacities, as their residency status makes it difficult for the military to conduct a proper background check. However, joining the Army has one special benefit: it speeds up the immigration process for servicemembers and their families.
Permanent residents can enlist with the Army, but they must meet the same basic requirements as other enlistees. These include being between the ages of 17 and 35, having a high school diploma or a G.E.D., being in good physical health and having a good moral standing. Legal aliens must be able to read and write basic English. When they enlist in the Army they begin in the rank of a trainee, known in the Army as a Private, and if they have prior military experience they may enlist as a Private First Class.
Becoming an Officer
Officers are the leaders and role models of the U.S. Army. They take a position of authority and great responsibility, and must possess an impeccable reputation to qualify for the role. Because of the security clearance necessary, permanent residents aren't allowed to become Army officers, even if they possess the required educational background. They also aren't able to attend Officer Candidate School, the Military Academy or take part of Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).
Qualified clergymen can serve the Army as chaplains, though only as Reservists. Joining the Reserves means committing to training for one weekend a month and two weeks a year with your local station, while maintaining a civilian lifestyle outside of these times. You must hold a graduate degree in theology or religious studies and be sensitive to the differing beliefs of the servicemembers in your care. Applicants must be between the ages of 21 and 44, pass physical requirements and be able to receive favorable National Agency Security Clearance.
Becoming a Citizen
Though you can enter the Army as a permanent resident, certain restrictions may keep you from fully realizing your goals. Yet, taking that first step can open the doors to becoming a full U.S. citizen in much less time than it would take otherwise, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. As long as you're at least 18, can communicate basic English, have a fundamental understanding of U.S. history and laws and have served at least one year of honorable service to the Army during a time of peace, you can qualify for citizenship. If you apply while you're still in the service, or within six months of being honorably discharged, the five-year residency requirement is waived. During wartime this changes significantly. You only have to serve one day honorably to qualify for citizenship and there are no minimum age requirements.
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