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Tinker reservist is 'home' at last

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Zach Anderson
  • 507th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America..."

Airman 1st Class Nimsi Garza had spoken the words hundreds, maybe thousands of times.

Day after day in different elementary school classrooms across south Texas she stood at attention, hand over heart, and declared her loyalty to the flag, to the ideals it represents and to the country for which it stands. Each morning she meant every word with all of her heart. But it wasn't her flag. It wasn't her country. And despite the fact that she lived there, according to the government, it wasn't really her home.

At the age of 18 she took another pledge; a pledge to defend this country against all enemies, foreign and domestic, to give her life for a nation that didn't even claim her as its own. At basic military training she once again stood at attention each day and saluted the flag. She pledged her allegiance to the flag and vowed to die for it and the people it represents. She wore the uniform with pride, her heart swelling with the honor of becoming a member of an elite assembly of individuals dedicated to the defense of the United States.

She had taken the oath, she had the uniform, she had earned the title of "airman"...but it still wasn't her flag. It still wasn't her home.

Airman Garza, a lodging technician with the 507th Air Refueling Wing Services Flight, was born in Matamoras, Mexico. When she was just over a year old, her parents made the decision to raise their two daughters in the United States, meaning they would have to obtain legal residency status. And while the choice to relocate to America was easy, the process itself proved painful for the family.

"I think they saw there was a better life for us here. All parents want a better life for their kids and that's why they went through the trouble to bring us here," Airman Garza said. 

"It was difficult for them," she added. "I didn't live with them the entire first year we were in America while they were gaining their residency. I actually lived with other friends. It was hard, but they did it because they knew it would be better for us."

It was better. Growing up as a legal United States resident, Airman Garza was given opportunities she would most likely never have experienced in Mexico...opportunities for education, success, to pursue her individual hopes and dreams. She loved the United States, loved what it stood for and what it offered. After all, it was the only country she had ever known.

"I never really lived in Mexico," she said. "I mean, I'm proud of where I am from, of my heritage, but I consider the U.S. my country really because I've been here so long, and it has given so much to my family." 

That love of country is exactly what prompted Airman Garza to give something back. At the age of 17 she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

For Airman Garza, the decision to join the military was easy. She had no doubt about her commitment. 

"I've always had this love for the country I'm in. I know it's worth fighting for," she said. "Lots of people have given their lives who were actually born here to give me the opportunity to be here now. Joining the military is just a way to give back, and it feels good."

Once she received her assignment with the Air Force, Airman Garza poured her love for the United States into her duties-- attributes that haven't gone unnoticed by her supervisors.

"She is awesome. Just a total go-getter," said Capt. Rebecca Lee, commander of the 507th Services Flight. "I'm so glad she is with us. She is always positive, with a good attitude even in high stress situations. She's always willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. I'm proud to have her."

But despite the praise, despite the pride she felt in her work, something was still missing. The picture wasn't quite complete. And so, in July 2007 Airman Garza officially submitted her application to gain citizenship to the United States of America. She was the first in her family to take that step--a source of pride for her parents.

"They were really excited. It's what they have always wanted for me," she said.

Almost a year after submitting her paperwork, two years after taking the oath of enlistment, and even more years since first pledging her allegiance, Airman Garza again stood in front of the flag and took yet another oath--the oath of citizenship. On March 26, 2008, Airman 1st Class Nimsi Garza officially became a citizen of the United States of America. 

"It was an emotional thing for me," Airman Garza said. "This has always been my country. It feels good to know I belong, actually belong, on paper."

To her fellow service members, her pride in her citizenship is evident. 

"She seems like she stands a bit taller in her uniform now," Captain Lee said. "I think citizenship just really took her to that next level of acceptance and feeling more comfortable in her own skin, in truly being a part of America. She officially has all the 'rights and privileges' now. I'm very happy she decided to do that."

For her part, Airman Garza said she can't express enough appreciation for the support she received from her fellow Airmen as she worked her way through the citizenship process. 

"They have been very supportive through the whole thing. My actual family couldn't be there, but these people are my family and they have been by my side," she said. "I know they are proud of me and that feels good. It feels good to know I belong. I always did with them, but now it's official." 

Garza said in the end it was just about making official something she had always felt inside. After all, she may have been born in Mexico, but her heart has always been American.

"I'm very proud. I can actually now say, 'I am an American,'" she said. "I've always said I am, but I really, really am now."

And now when she stands in front of the flag, saluting, pledging her allegiance, it will be her flag--the flag of her country and, finally, the flag of her home.