Iraq Veterans, Other Troops Take Citizenship Oath
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 4, 2004 Four servicemembers were among 34 immigrants who became U.S. citizens in Arlington, Va., Aug. 3.
Jamaica native Marine Cpl. Everton Bryon, 22, Headquarters
Company Marine Barracks 8th and I, Washington, D.C., and Dominican Republic
native Army Spc. Johanna Abreu, Southern European Task Force, Vicenza, Italy,
recite the pledge of allegiance during citizenship ceremonies at the U.S.
Immigration and Naturalization Office in Arlington, Va., Aug. 3. Photo by Sgt.
1st Class Doug Sample
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Staff Sgt. Hilbert Caesar, 26, Spcs. Hernandez Reyes, 22, and Johanna Abreu, 20, and Marine Cpl. Everton Bryon, 22, became naturalized U.S. citizens in the brief ceremony at the Naturalization and Immigration Office in downtown Arlington.
During the ceremony, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Eduardo Aguirre, a naturalized U.S. citizen who came to the country from Cuba, commended the servicemembers for their service to the United States. "Your choice to defend our country is greatly respected at the highest levels," he said.
He also said gaining the right to citizenship means more for servicemembers because they are "willing to give their lives for this country."
A native of El Salvador, which was part of the U.S.-led coalition, Reyes spent 15 months in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Serving with the 136th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division, deployed from Friedberg, Germany, Reyes said he is proud to have served his country. Though he admitted a distaste for war, he added, "We had a mission, and we did what we had to do."
Caesar, a Guyana native, said he wants to continue a career in the military despite an injury that may prevent him from doing so.
While serving in Iraq, Caesar lost his right leg after an improvised explosive device hit his convoy traveling through Baghdad. At the citizenship ceremony, Caesar told reporters he wants to go back on active duty to serve his country.
"I'm a leader," he said. "I love being a soldier."
Aguirre called Caesar "a man of honor," one who he said he is "proud to soon call a fellow American."
"You fought to protect the very freedom that your adopted country cherishes and admires," he said of Caesar's actions in combat.
Aguirre noted that Caesar may not be able to lead his fellow soldiers into combat because of the injuries he suffered. But, he said, "He can lead them by example."
Although their new citizenship status gives them a greater sense of pride in serving their country, it also means better opportunities in the military.
The soldiers said their noncitizen status had barred them from certain schools, denied them security clearance, and hurt their chances for promotions.
Though she said she is thrilled about her new citizenship, Abreu talked excitedly about what the future now holds for her Army career.
"It feels good to finally become a citizen. Now I will have more opportunities in the military," she explained, "because you really need to be a citizen to do much of the work in the military."
Abreu came to the United States from the Dominican Republic in 1998, living with relatives in Tampa, Fla. She finished high school and entered college there.
Before finishing college, Abreu decided she "needed to do something exciting," she said.
"I needed adventure in my life," she explained. "So I joined the Army. I didn't give it any thought. I just did it, and it's been great."
Abreu is an administrative assistant with the Southern European Task Force in Vicenza, Italy, and would like to make a career of the military as an officer.
She said, she can rightfully do so, now that she is a U.S. citizen.
Reyes said he also hopes doors will open for his Army career. He had wanted to go through ranger training, he said, but he could not get the special security clearances to do so because he was not a citizen.
"Getting your citizenship gives you the opportunity to do the things you want to do," Reyes explained. "You need your citizenship if you want to move up in rank, if you want to advance."
In recent years, becoming a U.S. citizen has become much easier and faster for thousands of noncitizen servicemembers. In July 2002, President Bush expedited the naturalization process for servicemembers through an executive order that states legal permanent residents serving in the U.S. military are immediately eligible to apply for naturalization.
The order also states that legal permanent residents who were on active duty on Sept. 11, 2001, or after, but have since been honorably discharged from the military are also eligible for expedited naturalization.
According to USCIS, more than 16,000 service members have requested expedited citizenship, and more that 8,000 have been sworn in as new U.S. citizens. Twenty-two servicemembers have been naturalized posthumously after being killed in Iraq.
The Immigration and Nationality Act requires aliens to reside in the United States for at least five years after being lawfully admitted before applying for citizenship. That wait is three years for service members who are legal residents.
However, President Bush waived the time limits for service members serving during periods of military hostilities, such as the war on terrorism.
According to the USCIS, the general requirements for servicemembers to become U.S. citizens are that they demonstrate good moral character, have a knowledge of the English language, U.S. governments and history, and take an oath of allegiance to the U.S. constitution. Servicemembers also must prove U.S. residency.
Additional benefits for servicemembers that recently went into effect include no-fee filing for naturalization, Aguirre said. And, he added, soon the naturalization process will be available to servicemembers at overseas locations, such as embassies, consulates and military installations.