Washington guardsman completes journey to citizenship

Nicaragua native came to U.S. in 2012 to live near his mother, became U.S. citizen last week

Pfc. Aquiles Morales Centeno of the Washington National Guard recites the oath of U.S. citizenship July 17, 2018. He is a native of Nicaragua but joined the Washington National Guard with the goal of earning his college degree. (Sgt. 1st Class Jason Kriess/U.S. Army National Guard)

Standing in a room filled with family, friends and colleagues, 64 people raised their right hands last week and swore an allegiance to the United States, becoming naturalized citizens at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Seattle.

Among them was Pfc. Aquiles Morales Centeno, a member of the Washington National Guard.

“Becoming a citizen is great because it’s going to help me and my family,” Morales said. “I’m also going to be able to vote and have the rights that all Americans have.”

Morales, a supply specialist, is part of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment, 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Kent. His hard work and initiative immediately drew the attention of his incoming commander, Capt. Jordan Villeneuve.

Villeneuve worked a lot with Morales during his change of command inventory and was shocked to learn that he was not yet a U.S. citizen.

“He came across as just another member of the team,” Villeneuve said. “He was doing his part and pulling his own weight, which was awesome.”

Getting his citizenship puts a cap on a journey that began for Morales in 2012.

Morales, a native of Nicaragua, was in school there to earn a degree in construction management, and he traveled frequently to visit his mother in Washington state. But the cost of so much travel was proving to be too much.

“At one point, I said that this is a lot of money going back and forth,” Morales said. “So I decided to stay here and work.”

Pfc. Aquiles Morales Centeno of the Washington National Guard poses for a photo with his mother, Elena, nephew, Joshua, and niece, Nicole, after becoming a U.S. citizen July 17, 2018. (Sgt. 1st Class Jason Kriess/U.S. Army National Guard)

After working for a couple years and taking care of his mother, who has arthritis, Morales still wanted to finish his degree but struggled with how to pay for it. That’s when he discovered the National Guard.

“I looked at the (regular) Army, but they typically decide where you are going to go next. The same thing with the other active services,” Morales said.

But only the Washington National Guard offered him the stability of remaining in the state of Washington as well as choosing his career: unit supply specialist.

Serving in the Washington National Guard is about “being a part of a team, regardless of what your background is,” Villeneuve said.

A version of this article was first published on the Washington Military Department’s website. Read more news from the department at https://mil.wa.gov/blog/news.