US Army Specialist Kristania Virginia Besouw, right, enlisted last October after studying nursing in Kansas. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Questions Loom for US Army’s New Queen


MARCH 17, 2015

US Army Specialist Kristania Virginia Besouw, right, enlisted last October after studying nursing in Kansas. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Jakarta. Beauty queen scandals are often so predictable — purloined tiaras, garden-variety sex tapes, spectacular Q&A fails — as to be boring. But now a new contestant for the crown of Miss Ignominy has taken the stage, with all of Indonesia weighing in on social media to judge: What does it mean when your country’s top beauty queen takes up arms for another country — and gets a new passport?

Kristania Virginia Besouw, 29, was crowned Miss Indonesia in 2006. She previously reigned as 2004’s Miss Manado, her hometown in North Sulawesi. Now, she’s enlisted in the US Army as a nurse, a career decision that also put her on the fast track to becoming a US citizen.

Prior to joining the US Army, Specialist Kristania had lived in the United States for eight years on a student visa, during which time she was unable to return to Indonesia — not even for her father’s funeral in 2011, she said in an interview last Thursday with Tribun Manado.

“I was on a student visa, which meant that I had to keep going to college, and college here is really expensive,” she said. “So I joined the army through the MAVNI [Military Accession Vital to the National Interest] program. That’s for people who have gone to school here for at least two years. Graduates become US citizens, so I don’t have to think about going to college again. I wanted to become a citizen quickly so I can go home to Manado to see my family and friends. I miss them so much.”

In addition to US citizenship and a professional nursing certification, Kristania’s service in the US military will make her eligible to attend college for free — should she decide to return — courtesy of the Army Tuition Assistance program. On average, the US military recruits about 5,000 non-citizens each year, nearly all of them permanent US residents, or so-called “green card” holders. 

Starting in 2006, the US military began accepting some foreigners with nonpermanent visas, such as students or tourists, if they have special skills that are highly valued. Since 2001, more than 92,000 foreign-born service members have become US citizens while serving in uniform.

Kristania said she felt proud to carry on a family tradition by serving in uniform. “I wanted to continue my father’s legacy. My father was an Indonesian Navy veteran,” she said. “And before him, my grandfather was a policeman. So I’m continuing my family’s legacy. If my father was alive, he would be so proud of me.”

Still, why not serve in the Indonesian Military (TNI)? “The situation is very different,” Kristania explained. “I am here to become a nurse. And the nurses in America are really appreciated; [nursing] school is really hard, and then when entering the Army, it’s [even] more rewarding.” 

Kristania says she loves Indonesia and her hometown of Manado in particular. She frames her commitment to the US Army as an effort to return home, if perhaps the hard way. “When I was trying to pass BCT [Basic Combat Training, or ‘boot camp’], which is incredibly hard, I just remembered that this is all in order to return home,” she said. “My time in training, from the end of October through January, was cold. We woke up at 4 a.m. and slept at 5 p.m. every day, with a two-hour night watch in between. It was winter, and very physically difficult.”

Still, Kristania says she’s happy: “I got in trouble for smiling too much at BCT,” she confesses in a Facebook post. “So I have to make constant effort not to smile.” While many across the archipelago have expressed joy and pride at the achievements of their fellow countrywoman and nation’s former top beauty star, not all Indonesians will be so pleased at Kristania’s homecoming.

An article titled “Kristy Is Automatically No Longer an Indonesian Citizen,” citing comments by TNI spokesman Maj. Gen. M. Fuad Basya, appeared in Manado-based newspaper Harian Komentar, alongside the news of her new job and citizenship. Fuad’s assertion that Kristania’s Indonesian citizenship was automatically annulled by her joining the US Army may not be wholly accurate.

Assuming she has not renounced her citizenship before an Indonesian consular officer, Kristania is unlikely to learn of any official change in the disposition of her Indonesian citizenship unless she attempts to renew her passport. Kristania’s new life in the United States is not totally without precedent in the annals of beauty queen scandals.

Former Miss St. Petersburg Anastasia Michaeli was elected to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, as a member of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, Haaretz reported. Though second citizenships have historically been an accepted among Israeli politicians, Michaeli and two other legislators were ordered in 2009 to officially annul their foreign ties.

“If Indonesia allowed dual citizenship, that would be nice. But for now, yes, I am a citizen of the US,” Kristania said. The United States permits dual citizenship; Indonesia does not, at least for nationals over 18 years old. However, were Kristania to enjoy the privileges of Indonesian citizenship, for example by traveling on her old passport, she could jeopardize the security clearance that her job as a US Army nurse requires.

The Jakarta Globe has submitted questions to President Joko Widodo asking whether his administration would support a change in the law that would allow Indonesians to enjoy dual citizenship. The Globe has also asked President Joko what steps he would take to reduce Indonesia’s profound shortage of skilled health care personnel (a 100,000-doctor shortfall, for instance, to meet demand between now and 2019, government models suggest); proposals floated but quickly killed by the administration include allowing qualified foreigners to immigrate and practice here.

The president has yet to reply to these questions, or to the Globe’s request for an interview, which has been outstanding since January. The US Embassy in Jakarta’s Twitter and Facebook feeds, usually quick to herald and applaud achievements by US citizens of Indonesian origin — as when an Indonesian-born judge is tapped for the highest court in Massachusetts, or becomes chief of police for a town in Florida — have so far been silent on the former Miss Indonesia’s proud news.

Commenting on a Facebook photo of the newspaper article calling into question her loyalty, Kristania wrote: “Maj. Gen. Fuad Basya and Tantowi Yahya have commented on my status. I do not know what’s going on; I just want to say I love my two countries.”