The “American Citizen” Defined

By Alan Morales, WTC Stratcom

SPC Tenniel Smith (right) and his wife Natasha Smith (left) during their wedding day in Clarendon, Jamaica.

American. It’s a word we probably hear every day either in the news or in daily conversation. It’s a word that unites us all and has an even more special meaning during our country’s time in war. Nevertheless, for Warrior in Transition (WT) and AW2 Soldier SPC Tenniel Smith, the word American has had a dynamic definition that has changed him for the rest of his life.

As a native-born Jamaican, SPC Smith enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2009. Prior to his enlistment, SPC Smith had grown up travelling back and forth from Jamaica to Atlanta, GA, where his American-born father lives. Despite the difficulties of travelling back and forth between Families, Smith attended school in Jamaica while still receiving a healthy dose of American culture during his visits to the States.

During these cultural immersions, the military culture had always been one aspect of Americana that had always fascinated Smith. As he mentioned to me on the phone, “whether it was a conversation with my dad about the Army or even just watching an Army Strong commercial on TV, I always felt a hunger to enlist.” It was this statement that sparked my curiosity. Regardless of the influencing factors, what did it really mean to fight as a foreign national?

For Smith, enlisting was a way to satiate not just a hunger but a way to give back to the country that had given him so much. During his enlistment, Smith admits that his internal call to serve was being met, but that there was still something missing–his identity as an American. It was at this point that Smith decided to apply for American citizenship.

He applied twice and was denied, but after trying a third time during his deployment in Afghanistan, he was offered a citizenship application interview. As fate would have it, before the time scheduled for the interview, SPC Smith was knocked unconscious and suffered a closed fracture to his left femur during an improvised explosive device (IED) blast. Needless to say this interview was never completed. Nevertheless, after being transferred from Afghanistan to Germany, then to Washington, and now to Fort Hood, Smith would meet an individual that would help him attain the American identity he always knew he wanted.

At Fort Hood, Smith met AW2 Advocate Brandon Hicks, who with the help of the other Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) Staff, helped Smith attain the citizenship he strived to attain. As Smith still receives treatment, he now faces his second challenge–how to get his wife Natasha to the States. “The WTU Staff has been amazing and so supportive in helping me navigate through the process to get my wife American citizenship. After getting this far, they still help me work for my Family’s happiness and that is something that I will always remember,” explains Smith.

This set of circumstances made me understand that life’s challenges may be daunting, but that in the case of SPC Tenniel Smith, there is a community and network that truly cares about helping make the hard things in life a little easier.

Hanging up after my conversation with Smith, I realized that one thing was for certain. Regardless of his medical situation or his wife’s current citizenship challenges, Smith had been steadfast in overcoming the obstacles during his journey. In the greater scheme of things, Smith had definitely accomplished at least one thing in my mind. He served his country and he served it as an American.

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