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Five years, 158 days: One Airman’s journey to citizenship

Airman Aris D. Soltani, a 940th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron personnelist, poses for a photo with U.S. citizenship certificate Oct. 11, 2016, in Sacramento, California. Soltani passed his citizenship test and recited the Oath of Allegiance earlier that day. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Tara R. Abrahams)

Airman Aris D. Soltani, a 940th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron personnelist, poses for a photo with U.S. citizenship certificate Oct. 11, 2016, in Sacramento, California. Soltani passed his citizenship test and recited the Oath of Allegiance earlier that day. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Tara R. Abrahams)

Airman Aris D. Soltani, a 940th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron personnelist, recites the Oath of Allegiance Oct. 11, 2016, in Sacramento, California. Soltani was born in Germany and had been working toward citizenship for almost six years. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Tara R. Abrahams)

Airman Aris D. Soltani, a 940th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron personnelist, recites the Oath of Allegiance Oct. 11, 2016, in Sacramento, California. Soltani was born in Germany and had been working toward citizenship for almost six years. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Tara R. Abrahams)

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, California -- Five years and 158 days after moving to the United States, Airman Aris D. Soltani became a citizen. Soltani raised his right hand and recited the Oath of Allegiance Oct. 11, 2016, at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Sacramento, California.

“I don’t think I’ve ever really been so proud of myself,” said Soltani, a 940th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron personnelist. “This was the goal for a very long time.”

After being influenced by his father’s outlook of the United States, he grew up dreaming of the American lifestyle.

“You can’t just pin-point an American,” Soltani said. “That’s really the beauty of it- the fact that every single one of us comes from different backgrounds and cultures, and we can still be called Americans.”

Soltani was born in Germany to a Mexican mother and Persian father. Growing up, he didn’t ever truly feel German because he believed he didn’t look the part. Although while there he learned to speak German along with Farsi, Spanish, French, Latin and English.

Over the years, Soltani continued to learn more about America from his English classes, American friends of military families stationed nearby, and his family.

Both parents had difficulties gaining legal status in the U.S. It took almost a decade for his mother to get her green card, while his father, an Iranian-born doctor in nuclear physics, was temporarily denied entry after 9/11.

“9/11 and history in the past 20 years really played a big role on my family,” Soltani said.

With so many trials and tribulations, Soltani began to wonder why anyone would struggle so much to live in the country.

“I just thought ‘why would I put myself through that?’” Soltani said. “’Why don’t we just live in Germany and be happy?’”

But after a temporary move to California with his mother, he could see why she wanted to be there, and began to truly want it himself.

A few years later, in 2011, Soltani’s dream became reality. He moved to California with his father and sister. He completed high school here, and with the encouragement of his father, decided to join the military.

“When I joined, at first, I was really unsure if I wanted to,” Soltani said. “In the beginning it was a lot for selfish reasons, but once I joined and was in basic and whatnot, I started to realize it was for a lot of different reasons, and I’m really glad I volunteered to do this. I’m really proud of it.”

Soltani planned to get his citizenship upon graduation of basic military training, but had too many delays with the process.

“I wasn’t able to get the interview or do the test in time, so unfortunately it didn’t happen,” Soltani said.

Although the process wasn’t as quick as it would have been in basic military training, being a military member did speed things up so that now he holds his citizenship certificate.

“That piece of paper means way more to me than you would ever know,” Soltani said. “It’s something you can’t describe. Most people don’t understand because they’re born here and they’re granted that.”

Now, Soltani looks to give back in thanks to all that the military and this country has given him.

“In the future, I would like to try to become some sort of diplomat between countries, where I can use my knowledge in cultures and languages for the betterment of the U.S. and other countries,” Soltani said. “I just want to put myself to more use.”

Soltani continues to have a lot of respect for Germany, but now feels more of a connection with the United States.

“By blood, I’m Persian and Mexican, and I’ll always have that,” Soltani said. “But nationality-wise, I consider myself an American.”

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