Reservist completes journey from islander to United States citizen
By Senior Airman Nick Przybyciel, 446th Airlift Wing
/ Published April 23, 2006
MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- There are few people in this world who have the ability to completely blow your mind. Airman 1st Class Nicole Cyrus, from the 446th Airlift Wing, may definitely be one of them.
She holds a law degree, helped transform a country’s human rights program, and pioneered a legal profession. Aside from that, she’s a devoted mother and wife. Keep in mind there are only two stripes on her sleeve.
The vast discrepancy between rank and experience exists because Airman Cyrus enlisted in the Air Force Reserve as a non-U.S. citizen. Owing to that, her previous education could not parlay into a commission or advanced rank when she signed the dotted line.
However, green-card status will no longer be an impediment for her. The gifted and ambitious Airman gained U.S. citizenship March 20.
In 2001, Airman Cyrus immigrated to the United States from the land of calypso, the feisty Caribbean Island republic of Trinidad and Tobago. She walked away from the sublime life of an islander because she felt a need to grow and wanted to be closer to her fam-ily in Western Washington, she said.
“I hit a point where it was time to leave,” Airman Cyrus said. “It was a huge cultural shock when I first moved here, even though I spoke English. It’s much faster paced than back home. The environment, the psyche of the people – it’s all so different.”
The road to gain citizenship was difficult, but Airman Cyrus said she is relieved it only took five years.
“During my swearing-in ceremony, there were so many old people there who had to get help from their family members just to stand up. I can’t imagine how long they were trying to become citizens,” she said.
She credits the military with easing the process. “It was expedited because I was in the military. It definitely went a lot quicker,” she said.
About 35,000 non-citizens are currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, while 12,000 serve in the Reserve com-ponent. In 2004 more than 7,500 people gained citizenship through the military. Airman Cyrus’ native land, Trinidad and Tobago, has the ninth highest percentage of non-citizens serving in the U.S. military.
Since joining the Air Fore Reserve June 30, 2005, Airman Cyrus has become a prized acquisition for the 728th Airlift Squadron where she works as a personnel assistant.
“She is eager to learn and very intelligent,” said Airman Cyrus’ supervisor, Tech. Sgt. Aundrea Gonzales. “Nicole is someone with integrity and someone you can rely on. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to get to know and work with her.”
The military seems to be a good fit for Airman Cyrus, as well. “I think it’s awesome to work for the government, even if it’s the military. It’s a real juggling of responsibilities. You have to put a lot of your personal feelings to the side – it’s an exercise in selfless-ness that you don’t see in the private industry,” she said.
Airman Cyrus has a history of civil service, dating back to when she lived in Trinidad. She worked as a legal assistant for a blind attorney from 1994 to 2000, where she was a pioneer in her field.
After graduating from the University of London with a law degree in 1999, Airman Cyrus began working with Trinidad’s attorney general’s office. She and her coworkers had the mammoth task of compiling human rights reports, which up to that point, had never been accomplished in the republic.
“It was very rewarding. You got to meet so many people from the government. When you meet another civil servant, you respect their work because you know how much of themselves they poured into it,” she said.
The extensive human rights reports, which were often more than 200 pages long, helped government leaders deal with human rights issues more effectively, Airman Cyrus said.
Her passion and commitment has spilled over into the work she does with the 728th AS, even though she walked onto the job with little knowledge of what it would entail.
“Personnel …I never knew what that was!” she said, flashing her jovial Caribbean Island smile. “People think, ‘human resources, oh that’s just pushing paper.’ But I don’t think like that at all. For instance, it’s my job to file records of emergency data. If a pilot is halfway around the world, then it’s critical that his family can find him if there’s an emergency. We’re the link between a member and (his or her) family.”
Aside from being committed to the Reserve and her family, Airman Cyrus is busy working on her second degree by taking classes offered on base by the University of Maryland. She is currently looking into the possibility of receiving a commission, and would one day like to work in the legal field again.