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"Paranoid" Pentagon Has "Destroyed" MAVNI Program

May 18, 2017 (3 min read)

Alex Horton, Stars & Stripes, May 18, 2017 - "Earlier this spring, Dr. Kusuma Nio was anticipating two things in May.  The trauma surgeon hoped to deploy with his Army Reserve unit to Afghanistan, where his expertise in treating catastrophic injuries would be vital to U.S. and Afghan forces roiled by resurgent militants. The other thing: Nio was to raise his right hand again May 5.  Not just as a soldier, but as a U.S. citizen.  Instead, Indonesian-born Nio, 32, who lives in Springfield, Ill., is watching his fellow soldiers of the 1st Forward Surgical Team based in New York leave for war.  His path to citizenship has become a minefield.  His citizenship oath was postponed indefinitely April 13 by the United States Citizenship Immigration Service, who told him the Defense Department has suspended all applications from foreign-born recruits looking to serve.  The Pentagon’s tangled bureaucracy is struggling to move 4,200 legal immigrants through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, which was implemented in 2009 to take advantage of medical and language skills critical to the success of military operations around the world.  Newly imposed requirements issued in a Pentagon memo Sept. 30 — when the program was renewed — have created a logjam of applicants.  A rule that bars MAVNI recruits from receiving a security clearance until they complete their first term of service has crippled the ability of soldiers like Nio to earn a commission and prevents the military from using their talent for years.  Until then, his time as a reserve specialist is spent cleaning scalpels instead of using them in life-saving surgery.  Nio and others are left asking a simple question: If the military wanted their talents, why are they sitting around not using them?  “I’m a fully qualified and American-trained surgeon. It doesn’t make sense to me,” Nio said.  Margaret Stock, a retired Army officer central in creating the MAVNI program, said May 8 that the reforms are so severely counter to the original intent of the program that it is now imploding, sending ripples throughout the military that will hurt recruiting, undermine its security missions and send personnel spending into a frenzy as the force pays bills for native troops to receive top medical and language training.  “This isn’t extending the program,” Stock said of the new measures. “This is destroying the program.” ... A former senior Pentagon official familiar with the program told Stars and Stripes on May 9 that the background investigation process was changed after specific threats were identified. ... Stock waved off concerns the MAVNI program could be used by dangerous infiltrators, saying the Pentagon has succumbed to paranoia over the perceived danger of immigrants.  Since the recruits are highly vetted, they are often high-quality troops once they reach their units, she said.  MAVNI recruits have been highly sought in Special Operations Command, for instance, due to their reliability and cultural skills vital to training and fighting with foreign troops.  “If you’re going to sneak into the military, this is the last program you’d go through,” she said. ... Before recent changes, MAVNI could churn out minted troops with citizenship in hand in one to four months, Stock said.  But the new restrictions have jolted the program enough to turn off future applicants, Stock said.  While recruits with language skills await security clearances to begin training, they must enlist in other specialties that do not correspond with their skills.  “There’s no point to the program if all it does is produce extremely well-vetted truck drivers,” she said."

- Margaret D. Stock