For the first time during her four-year hitch in the Army, Staff Sgt. Gisela Martinez-Alvear can call herself a citizen of the country whose uniform she is wearing.
Martinez-Alvear, a native of Ecuador who served more than a year as a supply sergeant in Bosnia and in Kuwait during the Iraq war, became a U.S. citizen along with 16 others yesterday at a ceremony at the George H. Fallon Federal Building in downtown Baltimore.
"I feel great. It's nice to have the same privileges as everyone else," Martinez-Alvear said with a huge grin after the ceremony, which was attended by her father and several fellow soldiers.
Martinez-Alvear, who is now stationed at Fort Meade and wore her Army dress uniform to the ceremony, said her parents brought her to America five years ago so she could attend college. She enrolled at Montgomery College for six months but left school for more of an "adventure" in the military.
"I joined the Army because I wanted a new experience, and I wanted to pay my way through college," she said.
Martinez-Alvear, 23, served in Bosnia from September 2001 to April 2002 and in Kuwait from February to July of last year.
"While I was serving, I never felt that I was serving a country that was not mine," Martinez-Alvear said.
As of May, 32,421 noncitizens were serving on active duty, according to the Pentagon. Nearly 8,000 belong to the Army. Nearly half of the 17 who became U.S. citizens yesterday are in the military.
Martinez-Alvear performs logistics duties for the United States Army Field Band and attends night classes at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she is working toward her bachelor's degree in social science.
Martinez-Alvear's father, Gilberto Martinez, said he was "so proud" of his daughter's citizenship. Because of her accomplishment, "I want to become a U.S. citizen one day," said Martinez, who is in the country on a work visa.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.