LITTLE ROCK —Pfc. Kirill Pavlovich Maslakov didn’t join the Arkansas National Guard for the purpose of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, but when the opportunity was presented to him, he didn’t hesitate.
“When I joined the Guard, I didn’t know there was actually a citizenship benefit to it,” said Maslakov, a native of Russia who now lives in Pine Bluff. “When I got to basic training, they told me I could get my citizenship and everything.”
Maslakov filled out the paperwork for the program, and within two weeks he received a phone call.
“They told me, ‘Hey, would you like to come in and do your citizenship stuff?’ I said, ‘How long is it going to take?’ They told me about an hour. Within an hour, I got my citizenship,” he said.
Maslakov was among six members of the Arkansas National Guard who were honored Friday in a ceremony at the state Capitol for completing the naturalization process.
They obtained their citizenship through a program offered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that allows non-citizens who have green cards and have established residency to enlist in the military and complete an expedited naturalization process, with all fees waived.
“People are like, ‘Is it any different?’ They’re like, ‘Is it exciting?’” said Pvt. Paula Del Carmen Jaimes-Gonzalez, a native of El Salvador who has lived in Fort Smith since she was 6. “For me it just kind of feels the same. It’s just like, now I’m not just a resident. I’m a citizen of the United States.”
During Friday’s ceremony, Maj. Gen. William Wofford commented on the diversity of the group of honorees.
“The military operates as a joint force — soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines. We are team of diverse specialties, and that’s what makes our military so great and it’s what makes it so strong. That’s what makes this country strong, is the diversity among our citizens and the diversity of our military,” he said.
The honorees also included Spc. Carlos Arroyo Alvarado of Lowell, originally from Mexico; Spc. Hilario Gonzalez De La Hoya of Fayetteville, originally from Mexico; Pfc. Nigel Anthony Otero of Fort Smith, originally from Trinidad and Tobago; and Pfc. Erick Pantoja-Alcantar of Fort Smith, originally from Mexico.