YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan --
She casually strolled into a crowded auditorium when the sudden eruption of music came over the speakers. “American Woman, stay away from me!” rang out across the room while she walked inside, breezing past dozens of proudly hanging U.S. flags. Everyone arose from their chairs with a thunderous applause.
Lt. Col. Lisa Guzman, 374th Medical Support Squadron commander, teared up as she recalled the celebration her Wingmen planned when she finally became a U.S. citizen.
“I was born and raised in Mexico,” Guzman said. “When I was 15 years old, I obtained my green card and moved to California for high school. After graduating, I started working at a print shop. It was my first and only job before the military. It was very labor-intensive and made it hard to balance time for my college education.”
After struggling for a bit, Guzman realized that she needed a change. On the advice of a friend, she reached out to her local recruiter to gather information.
The recruiter recommended applying for the academy based on her current grades, but as she filled out the application, Guzman encountered her first obstacle.
“There was one block that I left blank and it was the one for naturalized or U.S. citizen,” recalled Guzman. “When my recruiter pointed out the omission, I replied ‘well, it's neither one for me,’ and explained that I was an immigrant with a green card. He told me that because of my status, I could not apply for the academy.”
Quickly offering up another option, he suggested enlisting.
“I remember thinking about the possibilities,” Guzman said. “It was a dream come true for me, considering my background. I grew up with a very humble upbringing. Considering the benefits, I gladly said ‘sign me up.’”
An added bonus to serving was becoming a U.S. citizen in only three years.
“I interviewed for my citizenship in Atlanta the week before my re-enlistment,” Guzman said. “If I was not a citizen before my re-enlistment I would not be allowed to continue serving. I passed the interview and I took the oath right then and there.”
Alone in the courtroom, she took her oath and walked out a U.S. citizen.
While her family and friends were not there to see her, it did not take away the pride she felt in her accomplishment.
But the next day, she was surprised with her ‘American Woman’ celebration.
“It made me realize that my Wingmen were my family too,” said Guzman. “It was even more overwhelming how they all embraced me. My Air Force family congratulated me on finally becoming a citizen.
“That support system pushed me to become better. From basic training to getting my citizenship and finally commissioning, they were all life changing moments. Those moments were witnessed and celebrated with my new family.”
The Air Force offers many benefits such as education opportunities, traveling the world, and even obtaining an U.S. citizenship, but to Guzman there was one perk that she valued the most as a Hispanic-American. It was the realization that regardless of where she started, she always had a family within the Air Force.