When Staff Sgt. Rene Reale deploys to Iraq for the second time early next year, he will risk his life fighting alongside his fellow members of the North Carolina National Guard.
But when it comes to choosing a commander-in-chief, Reale has no say. As a British citizen, Reale was unable to vote in the November election. And that's something he'd like to change.
As a combat veteran, the 40-year-old Reale is eligible for citizenship under rules signed by President George W. Bush in 2004 that streamlined the process for service members fighting in the U.S. military. More than 5,000 soldiers have become U.S. citizens since then, and several thousand more, including Reale, are in the pipeline.
"It is important for my family and me," Reale said, speaking with a distinct English accent. "My kids are all Americans."
Left London 16 years ago
Reale is a member of E Company, the engineer company of the 120th Combined Arms Battalion, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, North Carolina National Guard. The Associated Press is chronicling the experiences of members of the company, their families, and Hamlet, North Carolina, the town they are leaving behind.
Reale is a squad leader whose father is Italian and mother is English. He left his native southwest London 16 years ago. In 2000, he settled in North Carolina, where he lives with his second wife, American-born Jill; Katelyn Briggs, her daughter from an earlier marriage; and their two children, Kiara, 2, and Penelope, 8 months.
"I don't want to spend my life with my kids knowing Daddy still can't vote," Reale said. "I've been to a lot of developing nations where people can't vote, or the vote doesn't get counted."
Like other members of E Company, he has also been to Iraq before, in 2004. Before moving to America, Reale was a member of the British army reserves, and his old British unit was in Iraq at the same time as him in 2004.
Wants to naturalize before April
But it was this year's election and his inability to cast a vote for Barack Obama that really motivated him to become a citizen. In November, before E Company left for training at Fort Stewart, Georgia, Reale wrote U.S. Sen. Richard Burr seeking help with his application. He really wants to become an American citizen before the unit leaves for Iraq in April.
"These are my guys," he said. "These are the guys who I am deploying with."
When it happens, he'll remain a citizen in the eyes of the British government, although the U.S. doesn't recognize dual citizenship.
"It is not like I feel like a traitor to Britian," Reale said. "This is my home. You put roots down and you get settled and make a home."