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From immigrant to emissary

Naturalized citizen helps JBLM service members using experience and empathy

Sophia Redfield, passport and visa agent, left, witnesses Sgt. 1st Class Robert Pierce sign passport forms April 30 in her office in Waller Hall on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Credit: Jeannie Dimico, JBLM PAO

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD - Sofia Redfield uses her experience of becoming a naturalized citizen to help Joint Base Lewis-McChord service members navigate the passport and visa process.

Redfield was about seven years old when her family fled the war-torn country of Thailand in the late 1980s. They moved to the United States as refugees and began their journey of becoming citizens.

It was not an easy journey, Redfield said. The family settled in Tacoma and made a living of picking berries and other farm work.

"I grew up poor and worked in the fields during the summer to help pay for school supplies and clothes," she said.

The biggest challenge for the family was not being able to speak English, which they needed to fill out the citizenship forms.

Redfield was enrolled in the English as a second language program in elementary school. She became mostly fluent by middle school and often acted as a translator for her parents.

"I just remember being a kid and not knowing any English," she said. "The language barrier was very difficult, so I worked really hard to learn."

Sofia joined the Army Reserve when she was 17 and still in high school. She completed basic training the summer before her senior year and Advanced Individual Training after graduation. After a two-and-a-half-year mobilization, she applied for naturalization.

"It was a difficult process," Redfield said. "Agencies were charging up to $500 to help you complete the paperwork. Immigration agents were often unfriendly and not willing to help, but I persevered through the process."

After years of hardship, Sofia became a naturalized U.S. citizen at age 22.
Upon completing her service commitment, Redfield sought employment with the federal government.

She started working as a file clerk but quickly moved into the position she holds today: passport and visa agent at JBLM. She said she prides herself in being able to help others through the often-difficult process.

"I remember being at the immigration office with my parents, and we left some of the information on the forms blank and waited in line for hours just to ask the immigration agents at the counter for help," she said. "They were very rude and condescending. One agent told us, ‘You're trying to be a U.S. citizen and can't read?!' Let me add that the questions were quite confusing. It was very hurtful. I never want to be the person that a customer remembers as someone who did not help or try to help them."

Redfield was recently awarded the ICE Customer Service Excellence award for the third time in her career.

One customer wrote, "This is not my first time getting an official passport, but it is the first time it was an absolute pleasure to do so."

Redfield said she bases her award-winning customer service skills on using her own experience as a reminder to be kind and helpful to others in their journey.

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