FORT SMITH, Ark. - Fifty immigrants from 22 countries raised their right hands to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in the Judge Isaac C. Parker Federal Courtroom in a
nationalization ceremony June 24. They lowered their hands as new U.S. citizens.
“It was an honor to be invited to speak before the ceremony,” said Capt. Alcides Silva, 188th Force Support Squadron assistant director for personnel. “As a native of Braganca Paulista, Brazil, being a naturalized citizen is a privilege not many people get to share with me.”
Silva reflected on first stepping on American soil as a foreign exchange student at Spiro High School in 1996 before returning to attend college at Carl Albert State College. He then graduated from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, with a bachelor’s degree in math education in 2006.
“I loved the experience [of the exchange program] so much that I returned for college, fell in love with my now wife and the opportunities this country has afforded me,” Silva said. “I fell in love with the people here.”
Silva, now a computer science teacher and soccer coach at Poteau High School in Oklahoma, enlisted in 2002 as a heavy equipment operator with the Oklahoma Army National Guard’s 120th Engineer Battalion. In 2009, he joined the 188th Wing as a munitions specialist before accepting an officer’s commission in 2015.
“Serving is just one small way I can give back to this country. I joined the Guard to pay for college, but that’s not what kept me in,” he said. “It was the passion of the people I have served with. Their passion was infectious.”
While addressing the new U.S. citizens, Silva shared his own unforgettable experience during his naturalization ceremony in 2008.
“My wife, my son, my in-laws and about 30 others said the same pledge you will say today. I said the Pledge of Allegiance every day as a schoolteacher and in the military,” he recalled. “But the first time I said it as an American citizen, it felt different. It felt like I was finally home.”