Immigrants have served with honor in the U.S. armed forces since the Revolutionary War. But in what is believed to be a first, the Army has crowned as its top soldier and an enlistee who was not a U.S. citizen at birth.
The honoree, Sgt. Saral Shrestha, 24, grew up wanting to serve in the police or the military in his native Nepal. According to news accounts, he instead immigrated to the United States at his mother’s urging to further his education. After studying computer science at Bellevue University in Nebraska, he joined the Army in 2009 through a pilot program designed to recruit highly skilled immigrants for positions requiring special medical and language skills. (Shrestha speaks five languages, including Urdu, which is spoken in much of Pakistan.)
For immigrants, a prime benefit of the program is the ability to naturalize after completing basic training—although they can lose their citizenship if they fail to complete a designated number of years in service. Although Shrestha will soon be eligible for discharge, he reportedly has no plans to leave the Army. He instead hopes to obtain a master’s degree in computer science, attend officer training school, and become a member of the Army’s Special Forces.
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