Troops in Afghanistan Take Citizenship Oath
By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, May 27, 2008 The poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty beckons “Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses longing to be free,” but on this Memorial Day, quite the opposite was true, as 44 members of the U.S. military marched forward to become America’s newest citizens.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff congratulates a soldier May 26, 2008, on his new U.S. citizenship at a ceremony on Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. Forty-four soldiers and Marines became citizens at a naturalization ceremony. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Scott Davis
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
In the presence of the Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, U.S. Immigration Service Acting Director Jonathan Scharfen and Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, commander of Combined Joint Task Force 101, 44 servicemembers from 21 countries swore oaths of allegiance and became U.S. citizens.
“On behalf of President Bush and a grateful nation, I say, ‘Welcome,’” Chertoff said to the new American citizens.
The ceremony brought the number of military men and women who have gained citizenship while deployed to Afghanistan since beginning the war on terror to 312, said Stacy K. Strong, deputy district director of the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand. According to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service fact sheet, more than 39,000 servicemembers have become U.S. citizens since the beginning of the war.
“There is no honor greater than presiding over an oath ceremony, and there is no better place to do it than here,” Chertoff said. “You have all earned your citizenship through your service. Starting today, America is as much your country as it is mine.”
Under an executive order, legal permanent residents actively serving in the U.S. military and honorably discharged legal permanent residents who were on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, are eligible to apply for naturalization.
“This feels really great -- closure to the ‘history’ chapter in my life and the beginning of my future,” said Army Pvt. Mark Paguio, a Philippine native who led the other servicemembers in their recital of the Pledge of Allegiance. “Becoming a U.S. citizen has opened many doors,” he said.
For the 44 servicemembers who are serving in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom or the International Security Assistance Force, the oath was an affirmation of what they have worked so hard to secure.
“This day means everything to me,” said Marine Lance Cpl. Artem Starovoyt, a Ukraine native who now resides in Philadelphia. “I have been out on the front lines doing what I can for my nation, and now I can officially call America home.”
The servicemembers who took the citizenship oath are from Jamaica, Colombia, the Philippines, Peru, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Australia, Poland, Ghana, Iran, Mexico, El Salvador, Haiti, Sierra Leone, Trinidad and Tobago, Germany, Cuba, Nigeria, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Ukraine.
(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace serves with Combined Joint Task Force 101 Public Affairs.)