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Join the Army – become a citizen

A Department of Defense pilot program is drawing foreign nationals from all over the country to come to Queens – and join the Army.

The program has a typically obscure military anagram name: MAVNI.

It stands for “Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest,” which is hardly more enlightening. When word of the pilot program first became public, misinformation spread.

Sergeant First Class Larry Nelson, station commander of the Army Recruiting Station at 36-40 Main Street in Flushing, is happy to set the record straight.

“MAVNI is a pilot program begun in February that the Army is trying out in the New York City area. We’re looking to fill a need for people fluent in certain foreign languages,” Nelson explained.

Then with a broad grin he observed, “Hey, this is New York – if it’s spoken anywhere, there’s people here speaking it.” The program will run for one year or “until we fill 557 seats,” he continued.

Nelson laughed at questions whether the program was necessary to fill “recruitment quotas” or whether there was a danger of enlisting “moles” in the military.

“Actually, the Army met its yearly enlistment requirement early last year,” he pointed out and noted that MAVNI recruits will not be placed in jobs that require “security clearance.”

Indeed, the literature points out that “Department of Homeland Security will validate all MAVNI applicants prior to enlistment processing,” and on the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) list, cryptography, military intelligence or police and even pilot MOS are closed.

The program is not for immigrants and the roughly 8,000 “green card” holders who enlist each year are already on an expedited path to citizenship, Nelson noted.

“It’s for non-immigrant foreign nationals [certain visa holders] who want to serve this country in time of national need. This is to reward their contribution and sacrifice,” Nelson said.

The reward is that once in the Army, MAVNI recruits can apply for citizenship immediately. The catch is that if they fail to complete their enlistment, their citizenship can be revoked.

Prospective recruits must be between the ages of 17 and 41; have been in the U.S. on student, employment and other visas for a minimum of two years without having left for 90 days or more; speak one of about 48 specific languages; have at least a high school diploma and pass medical, security and the Army entry exam.

The language list is divided into three priorities, with various dialects of Arabic, Dari, Farsi, Pashto, Punjabi, Hindi, Moro, and other Asian and African tongues listed as “Priority 1” and sought for 40% or more of the MAVNI contracts.

Mandarin and Cantonese, Korean and several other Asian and European languages are capped at a maximum of 30 percent. Spanish is not on the list.

Non-citizens have served in the military since the Revolutionary War, the Army notes. Records indicate that during the Civil War, as many as one out of four Union soldiers was an immigrant.

If the prospective recruit gets at least 50 out of 99 on the entry exam, has a clean record (“no law violations whatsoever,” Nelson noted,) and passes the medical, “they sit with a career counselor,” he explained.

Since the program began, “There was an initial rush – we even had people come from as far away as California and Texas to sign up,” Nelson said. “About 70” recruits were enlisted in the first month, seven from the Flushing center alone, according to his figures.

“It tapered off a bit,” Nelson noted, “But we had a lot of interviews with high school students who will be showing up after graduation,” he predicted.

As Nelson was listing the MOS for some of the program’s recruits “92A- automated logistics specialist; 68W- healthcare specialist; 21E- heavy construction equipment operator,” Sergeant Raymond Jones was clarifying a point with an interested youth.

Sergeant Moon Wing Choy, fluent in both Mandarin and Cantonese, was out on a call, and Jones was being extra careful to get a specific point across.

“Sergeant Moon will speak to him again before he signs up. We’re not looking to hoodwink anybody,” Nelson said.

For more information, call 718-939-6330 or visit www.goarmy.com.

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