Traveling to the United States many years ago from her native Romania, Gizela Lupescu never dreamed at the time of becoming an American citizen. But all of that changed and many years later, not only is she now an American but serves as a Specialist in the North Carolina National Guard and as an independent contractor working for the Special Forces School at Camp Mackall.

She’s living proof that the American Dream can still exist for some people who are perseverant and never give up hope. She recently acted as an interpreter for the Guard troops who are visiting her native Romania on a multi-nation training exercise.

A native of Romania, Lupescu found the dream in North Carolina after a 16-year wait to become a U.S. citizen.

Now, she serves as a soldier in the North Carolina National Guard and an independent contractor on Fort Bragg training special operations forces.

In recent weeks, her worlds collided when she deployed to her native land as part of a group of North Carolina National Guard troops serving in support of a training exercise there.

Speaking from Romania, Lupescu said her story is a happy one.

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“I am on the cusp, if not already found it,” she said of her American dream. “My story is a successful story.”

Lupescu, who lives in Raeford, is a combat medic with the 230th Brigade Support Battalion, part of the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team.

In Romania, she’s assigned to the 5th Battalion, 113th Field Artillery Regiment – one of 200 local soldiers who deployed to Europe to participate in a 22-nation training exercise called Saber Guardian 17.

The soldiers — who operate the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HiMARS – are working with international allies while building readiness for a potential defense of Europe from Russian aggression. They are expected to return to North Carolina later this month.

Saber Guardian 17 is led by U.S. Army Europe and is taking place in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, officials said. It will involve more than 25,000 service members from various allies, including the United States, and is the largest Black Sea Region military exercise planned this year.

In Romania, Lupescu is a liaison and part-time translator between Romanian and American troops. While most Romanians speak some English, she said, she’s there to make sure nothing is lost in translation.

It’s a role that has taken some Romanian troops by surprise, especially when she talks in her native tongue.

“They pause and look me up and down,” Lupescu said.

Ultimately, the soldiers are proud to see one of their own in an American uniform, she said. They ask about life in America and her service in the Army. Lupescu tells them the truth.

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“I’ve had nothing but good experiences,” she said.

Lupescu came to America in 2000 at age 21. It wasn’t her original plan to become an American, but she fell in love with the country, she said.

It took her a dozen years to become a permanent resident. And several more years to earn her citizenship.

Lupescu said she knew it was a long process, but didn’t expect it to take so long.

“It can take four years,” she said. “It can take eight years.”

For Lupescu, it took 16.

She doesn’t know why it took so long, and she said she had her doubts along the way. But she never considered giving up, even when she felt she had no control of her life.

Born in Bucharest and the daughter of two teachers, Lupescu said she grew up with a love of America fueled largely by Hollywood.

“I was always fascinated with the American culture,” she said. “Everything American.”

When the opportunity came to travel to the United States, Lupescu jumped at the chance.

In June 2000, she arrived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to serve as a counselor for a Girl Scout camp. There, Lupescu said, she fell in love with the country and applied for naturalization.

In Romania, Lupescu was trained on the violin and piano. She had gone to college for dentistry and could speak French, English and Spanish. But in America, as she waited for her citizenship, she had to settle for whatever jobs she could find.

“No job would be beneath me,” she said. “One does what one has to.”

Lupescu worked in construction, as a waitress and as a secretary. She cleaned houses, washed dishes and, for a time, even drove a delivery truck.

“I’ve even been one of those annoying telemarketers,” she said.

We normally only hear about the other side of immigration, the illegal immigrants. But for the others, the ones who go about becoming Americans the right way, this is a familiar but still great story.

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Photo courtesy US Army