Staff Sgt. Travis Tofi always had a desire to serve the country he loves, so he left Samoa to enlist in the U.S. Army.
For four years, he served as a Soldier, until he decided to put in his packet to become an officer. “I was in Afghanistan, and the Retention Office (Career Counselor) that I submitted my packet through informed me that I had to be a citizen to become an officer. I made some phone calls and discovered that all Samoans are “nationals” and not “citizens.” I immediately tried to apply for citizenship.
“That’s when I discovered nobody around me knew the process.”
Tofi submitted the paperwork he could find and it never resulted in an action. When he reached out to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, they informed him that no official reviewer had signed his application. No explanation for who could officially review the application was given.
“I was discouraged until I got to the 249th Engineer Battalion. I attempted to reclassify to another MOS and was faced with the same bar, due to citizenship. But this time, the unit was helpful,” Tofi said. “All of my coworkers came out and tried to help me solve this problem. I went to speak with legal, Army Community Service, anyone I could. Although everyone wanted to help, nobody knew what to do.
“That’s when Command Sgt. Maj. Faith Alexander pulled me aside and asked about my situation. I said ‘CSM, I don’t know how to do this.’”
Alexander asked Tofi to return to her office the next day and made a phone call. When he arrived, Lt. Col. Julie Balten signed off on the application. A Battalion Commander, it turns out, is an “official reviewer.” The packet was accepted in February 2017.
“Two months later, I received a request to process my fingerprints (one of the final stages in the path to citizenship). That June, they mailed me to schedule an interview. The interviewer turned out to be a veteran who knew my story and was sympathetic,” Tofi said. “In July, they emailed me to set an induction date. I officially became a U.S. citizen on 14 August 2017. I am truly grateful to the 249th for making this possible.”