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Deployed Soldiers Become U.S. Citizens

By Sgt. Stephanie L. Carl
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Oct. 6, 2004 – For 17 members of the coalition serving in Afghanistan, living the "American Dream" became reality here Oct. 1 when they took the oath of citizenship.

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Army Staff Sgt. Joanna Drozd, a native of Poland, leads the 16 other soldiers in the pledge of allegiance during the naturalization ceremony Oct. 1 at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. Photo by Sgt. Stephanie L. Carl, USA
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The National Defense Act signed by President Bush last year legalized the naturalization of U.S. servicemembers on foreign soil, allowing these 17 soldiers to become the first to take the oath overseas. Similar ceremonies were slated for Iraq and Germany a few days after the Afghanistan event.

"The people around you are welcoming you as citizens with open arms," said U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad during the ceremony. "You are able to pursue the dreams and high ideals that are part of the American creed."

Ranging in rank from private first class to staff sergeant, the 17 represented 13 different countries, each willing to fight for the country he or she now calls "home."

"I can't be any more proud of bringing the pride and honor of being a citizen to people who are defending America," said Eduardo Aguirre Jr., director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. "It's important to defend our freedom. It's not cheap; it costs blood. Each of these soldiers is willing to pay that price."

Spc. Christian Rendonvelasquez was one of the nation's newest citizens. A native of Colombia, Rendonvelasquez has lived in the United States for 16 years and is the last member of his immediate family to become a naturalized citizen. He is also the first person in his entire family to serve in the U.S. military.

"After 9/11 I thought it was my duty as an alien resident to help in the fight," said Rendonvelasquez, a member of 2nd Battalion, 265th Air Defense Artillery Regiment. "Now, I think it's the best feeling in the world to know I am serving my country."

Non-citizens are able to serve in the U.S. military, but they are restricted to an eight-year period. There are other limitations as well, such as the level of clearance they can receive and the ranks they can obtain. These restrictions spurred one soldier, Spc. Ronald J. Carrion, of Combined Joint Task Force 76, to work hard to become a citizen.

"I've been in the Army for four years," said Carrion. "I enjoy serving, and I want to become a warrant officer. I knew to do that, I needed to become a citizen."

Carrion moved to the United States from Ecuador 12 years ago. "My father was looking for a better future for us," he said. "He's still working on attaining some of his goals, but I know we've lived a much better life."

Now that he's become a U.S. citizen, Carrion is able to continue pursuing his goals within the military. He said one thing has changed, however: "Now, I am serving 'my' country."

(Army Sgt. Stephanie L. Carl is assigned to the 17th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageEduardo Aguirre Jr., U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director, leads the soldiers in the oath of citizenship Oct. 1 at a ceremony at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. Photo by Sgt. Stephanie L. Carl, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageEduardo Aguirre Jr., U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director, presents Army Spc. Christian Rendonvelasquez, a native of Colombia, with a certificate of citizenship at a ceremony at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, Oct. 1. Photo by Sgt. Stephanie L. Carl, USA  
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