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Passport to serve

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Dena Hale, passport agent and citizenship agent, began her military career with the Navy as medical corpsman and combat medic. In 1999, she crossed over to the blue and served in the Air Force as a medic until she retired from active-duty service in 2007. She said the past five years of working in the passport office has been very different from the type of job and accomplishments she had working within the military medical sector.

"It's a real change for me when I first came into it," Ms. Hale said. "There is not the same adrenaline rush with this job as there was in the medical field, but it's still a fun job."
The Passport Office works in conjunction with the Department of State, Department of Defense and occasionally members of Congressmen to issue passports to all military personnel, government civilians and civilian contractors and their dependents. The office also issues visas if required by the country of assignment for the applicant. Ms. Hale said the Passport Office processes between 250 and 285 passport and 19 visa applications per month. She said one of her favorite parts of the job is assisting Servicemembers by contacting foreign embassies and speaking with people from various places around the world, such as Belgium, Canada and Italy.

Ms. Hale said her office also works with our local congressmen and senators when travel issues for applicants arise. She recalled a Soldier had been injured and was sent to Turkey rather than brought to the U.S. because of his critical situation. The Soldier's mother and spouse went to the Passport Office to get assistance with a passport. She said they wanted to leave immediately because they did not know if the Soldier's condition would improve. They first tried to apply through the Department of State but they were informed all paperwork must be submitted and go through the same process as every other passport application. Through unsuccessful calls to the Department of the Army to expedite the application, Ms. Hale suggested the family call a local news station to "get the word out" about the difficulties the mother and spouse were having trying to get to their injured Soldier.

"Before the news was over, the Department of the Army called and said they were flying the mother and spouse to Seattle the very next day to process their paperwork, and leave the following Sunday to Turkey," Ms. Hale said. "Even tough it wasn't my job to do that, there is no way I was going to tell them to just turn in their paperwork and wait and see. I didn't know what it was going to take, but I wasn't going to quit until I got them help."

The Passport Office also assists active-duty Servicemembers and their families in filling out citizenship paperwork and answer any questions in the process. Ms. Hale said a Servicemember does not have to be a U.S. citizen prior to enlistment. However, prior to reenlistment, the Servicemember must have their citizenship paperwork completed.

Ms. Hale said helping an Army veteran gain their citizenship was how she became involved in working with the Passport Office. She said the Servicemember entered her office requesting a U.S. passport, but could not obtain one because she was still a citizen of Mexico.

"(The Soldier) had retired from the US Army after 30 years of service and never became a US citizen, and had no idea she was not a US citizen," Ms. Hale explained. "She was crying in the office and saying "How can you tell me I'm not a US citizen?" She had served all that time in the Army and when I told her she was not a citizen she became very upset. I went to see who could help this lady with her citizenship question and there was nobody around (processing citizenships) at the time. It just fell into my lap and I kept doing the the job. I went to her citizenship ceremony and we still email back and forth to each other.

"One thing I really like about (my job) is helping people get their citizenship," she added. "It's exciting to see someone become a US citizen and know that I helped them along their path."

Although the Passport Office is unable to process tourism passports, they will assist any customer in filling out their application, give them the instructions on how to fill out their applications, where to mail it to and how much it costs. If a customer needs to order a birth certificate, she said the office would give them a list of states to get that information.

"I don't believe in anyone coming in my office and anybody telling me that is not my job," Ms. Hale said. "Even though we don't process travel passports, we assist people with the process. We don't turn anyone away."