Persons who wish to serve in the US military and are not citizens can do so if they are lawful permanent residents (have a green card). Or can they? While the websites for the US military all claim that anyone with a green card is at least eligible to apply to join, the reality is that since October 2017, the active duty military, as well as the reserve units, cannot allow someone who is not a citizen of the US to enlist. The reason for such a policy is that Gen. Anthony Kurta, who has been nominated to be the Deputy Undersecretary of the Department of Defense, wrote memos stating that anyone who is not a citizen of the US, who wishes to enlist in the US military, must first undergo a background check before reporting for basic training. The problem with such a policy is that the US military cannot legally conduct a background check until after the person enlists and reports for duty / basic training. So, the outcome is that no one with a green card can enlist.

Unfortunately, many of the persons refused the right to enlist and serve in the military who have green cards are persons who also have the language and cultural skills that would enhance the national security of the US. The background checks required under the memos issued in October 2017 must include checking into the person’s life outside of the US, as well as their life since entering the US. The checks can take months to complete and, if the person entered as a refugee, they have already undergone checks for at least three to four years prior to being permitted to enter the US. If the person was an interpreter for the US military in one of the war zones, they had to undergo an intensive background check before being allowed to serve as an interpreter while in their native country. Yet, the memos demand additional checks be performed outside the US.

Another problem with this restriction on who is allowed to enlist is that quotas cannot be met by recruiters unless they relax the eligibility standards for enlistment and grant waivers to those citizens who do want to enlist. Such waivers currently include mental health issues (depression, including persons who engage in self-harm as a way of dealing with their issues), use of controlled substances, and criminal convictions. It seems that the writer of the memos did not see the movie Full Metal Jacket and the consequences of giving someone who is mentally unstable training in violent behavior and access to a weapon.

Serving in the US military was seen in the past as a way to get through the naturalization process faster because the person enlisting was allowed to start the process soon after completing basic training. The October memos, however, set a new policy that someone enlisting in the military must serve a minimum of 180 days of active duty before beginning the process. The original reason for a policy allowing a person who volunteers to serve in the US military to file for citizenship after one day of active duty was to demonstrate appreciation for the willingness of that person to die in combat. Now, the message being sent to noncitizens is that “Your life is not as worthwhile as that of a citizen” and the person does not deserve recognition for their willingness to die for the US. It is truly a sad time in America.