Naun Amador doesn’t have much of a summer break. He graduated from high school last weekend, and he will travel more than 1,000 miles from his family’s Wilson home to report for Army basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri on June 26.
His mother worries he will face discrimination because of his Honduran heritage. His brother, Erik, is impressed he would fight for a country that Erik isn’t convinced wants him.
Amador, who just graduated from Beddingfield High School in Wilson, isn’t bothered by any of it. The 18-year-old first-generation American is eager to get started in his military career.
“I feel like I was made for the Army, and nothing else,” he said.
Amador said joining the military is a way for immigrants and children of immigrants to show that they belong in the United States. His family arrived from Honduras 23 years ago, before he was born. His mother works at a plastics factory on a work visa. His father was deported when Amador was in the third grade.
His three older siblings, who were born in Honduras, dropped out of high school.
Amador decided to join the military during a time of renewed debates about immigration policy. President Donald Trump says he wants to build a wall along the Mexican border to keep out those who try to enter the U.S. illegally. Last month, Trump called some immigrants “animals.”
“I know that not all people want us here,” Amador said. “For me, this country has helped me get an education, helped my mom, let her work, and I want to serve to show them that they’re wrong. We are not here to mess up the country. We came here for a reason, and we want to make it strong.”
Amador’s mother, Reina Madrid, said that although she considers America home and is here legally, she gets nervous around law enforcement. Still, she is proud of her son for his choice to serve.
“I feel bad because our president feels the way he does about Hispanics, and I’m afraid Naun will go to war, but we are proud to be here,” Madrid said in Spanish as her son translated. “I’m proud that he’s going to go serve my country without anybody telling him he can’t do it. Nobody is making him join the military; it’s his choice.”
Amador is one of a growing number of Hispanics joining the military. The number of Hispanic recruits in the Army’s Raleigh Recruiting Battalion, which spans most of North Carolina, grew 66 percent from 2014 to 2017. Meanwhile, the state’s Hispanic population for ages 18 to 24 grew 8 percent during much of that period.
Amador hopes his Army service will help his mother become a U.S. citizen, but there are no guarantees.
In the past, the military has actively recruited individuals living in the United States who aren’t legal citizens under programs such as Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest.
The program allowed skilled participants to serve in the military in exchange for fast-tracked citizenship.
But MAVNI was suspended in 2016 over fears of foreign infiltrators, and in 2017 the Army abruptly canceled enlistment contracts for hundreds of foreign-born recruits.
Under current immigration rules, Amador will be able to help speed along his mother’s path to citizenship after he turns 21. Active-duty military personnel can qualify to petition for visas for immediate family members, including spouses, unmarried children and parents.
Amador’s service won’t benefit his siblings, but his brother Erik doesn’t mind.
“If you talk to my little brother, he will tell you this country wasn’t made by one race,” he said. “It was made by all of us. If he has that much courage, that much spirit, being so happy to serve his country – if he has the guts to fight for and die for it – that should earn him some respect, right?”
Amador’s interest in the Army began his sophomore year when he joined the JROTC program at Beddingfield High in Wilson, about 50 miles east of Raleigh.
JROTC gave him the focus, discipline and motivation he needed to stay in school, he said.
Amador was selected to attend a junior cadet leadership training in Virginia, where he rappelled down towers, learned wilderness skills and made a flotation device out of a pair of pants.
“I don’t know why they chose me, but I’m glad they did,” he said. “They showed me I could do more than I thought I could.”
JROTC is popular at Beddingfield High School, with about 100 cadets. Members say it’s like a family, thanks in part to JROTC instructors Sgt. Maj. Walter Singletary and Maj. James Holloway.
“They teach the kids, they don’t just teach the curriculum,” said Sgt. 1st Class Tyshawn Phillips, an Army recruiter who works with the cadets who are considering enlistment. “They’re going to keep in contact with you even if you’ve been in for five years. Other people that already joined the military come back and keep in touch with the JROTC. We let them know we care about all of them.”
It became clear early on that Amador would do well in the military, Singletary said. He said they chose Naun for the program in Virginia after seeing his leadership skills.
“With Naun, we saw the potential and the maturity in him at that time,” Singletary said. “We only take 13 to 16 (cadets to leadership training), so we are selective of the ones that we take.”
At the end of the program, Amador became a first sergeant and was given command of his own company of about 25 other cadets. After that, Amador said he was “all for the Army.”
But first had to convince his mother it would be OK to enlist.
“My mom was scared that they wouldn’t treat me the same as the other Americans,” he said. “I talked to her. I took her to the recruiting station and the recruiters talked to her. We won her over.”
Amador teases his mother by counting down the days until he leaves for basic training. In turn, his brother teases him about missing home-cooked meals.
“Just don’t judge a book by its cover, because my brother will surprise you and amaze you,” Erik Amador said. “You’d never think a guy like him would do anything, and now he’s getting a whole article about him in the news. He amazes me.”
After basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, Amador will go to Fort Bragg, about 85 miles from his family.
“Not everybody can join the Army,” he said. “Not everybody is made for the Army. So I’m proud to be someone who gets to wear that uniform.”
He told his mother that after he makes some money, she could visit Honduras.
“But she says she’d rather stay here,” Amador said. “This is home.”