NORFOLK, Va. –
At the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Field Office on July 29, 2021, Spc. Sri Siri Sundaresan Arumugam became a citizen of the United States of America. Originally from India, Sundaresan Arumugam joined the Virginia Army National Guard in 2019, completed basic and advanced training and then was assigned to Fort Pickett Maneuver Training Center. Since arriving in the U.S., she’s been setting goals for herself, like successfully passing the civics test required to earn citizenship, getting a driver’s license and, most of all gaining U.S. citizenship.
“Being a part of this country, I have freedom, now,” Sundaresan Arumugam said. “I can explore and live beyond the limits I was brought up in.”
Along the road to citizenship and over the course of her so-far short military career, Sundaresan Arumugam said she had help from a lot of people, most especially Lt. Col. Jennifer R. Martin, director of personnel – G1 for the Virginia Army National Guard, and 1st Lt. Zachary A. Lawrie, range officer for MTC.
“They all just know me as a Soldier,” she said, “Despite that, they all took an initiative and supported me. Every time I lost hope, Lt. Col. Martin would motivate me.”
Martin said she first met Sundaresan Arumugam in the fall of 2020 and quickly took her under her wing. Martin helped her get familiarized with the local area and brought her into her office to talk about prioritizing and reaching goals.
“I listed goals in order that made sense and explained you have to achieve these before you can acquire or achieve the others,” said Martin. “She wrote everything down, posted it in her room and I would keep following up with her to make sure she was in the right direction.”
Coming to the U.S. was a cultural shock for Sundaresan Arumugam. She said it often felt overwhelming to think about where she had come from, what she had given up and the mountain of obstacles between her and her goals, but she said Martin wouldn’t let her give up. She helped Sundaresan Arumugam understand the bigger picture and how she fit into that picture, and encouraged her to keep working toward her goals, even if they seemed hard to reach.
“I mentored her and I helped her,” said Martin. “But Sundaresan Arumugam did all the hard work to get where she is today. I have mentored a lot of people, but this has been one of the most rewarding mentorships and mentor/mentee relationships I have ever had.”
Lawrie said he met Sundaresan Arumugam when she had a pay problem and has worked with her ever since. At the time, she didn’t have a driver’s license, didn’t even know how to drive, so Lawrie helped. He fixed her pay problem and taught her to drive.
“When I arrived at drill that morning, I had no idea I was going to learn how to drive,” she said. That same weekend, she also learned she would soon be promoted. “I was speechless and shocked!”
While teaching her to drive, Lawrie was able to experience Sundaresan Arumugam’s strength of character.
“I watched her learn how to drive from not knowing how to even start the car,” he said. “She conquered her fear and stuck with it, gaining independence! She completed two major goals and reached milestones: her license and citizenship.”
Both Martin and Lawrie agree Sundaresan Arumugam made a great choice joining the Virginia National Guard and looking forward to following along with her career.
“I’m proud of her, she motivates and inspires me, said Martin. I would like to see her continue to serve and be an inspiration for others in the Virginia Army National Guard.”
While joining the military wasn’t something Sundaresan Arumugam ever thought she’d do, it’s something she’s glad she did.
“I didn't come here to join the Army. I would have never thought that I would become a Soldier in the most powerful military in the whole world,” she said. “Now, I'm a strong person, I'm a Soldier. It's such an honor that I received an opportunity to prove myself. I really want to thank the Virginia National Guard for letting me become someone. It means a lot that everyone looked out for me, and each person contributed the time to help and check up on me. I feel like I belong in the National Guard, and it feels good.”
Now that she has her citizenship, Sundaresan Arumugam said her next goals include permanent employment and transportation, new living arrangements and just maybe, Officer Candidate School.