More Than 190 Troops Earn U.S. Citizenship in Iraq
By Army Spc. Christopher M. Gaylord
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Sept. 2, 2008 American citizenship became a reality for 192 U.S. servicemembers from 54 different countries during a ceremony yesterday at Al Faw Palace on Camp Victory here.
Army Command Sgt. Major Joseph R. Allen, command sergeant major for Multinational Corps Iraq, presents a servicemember and new U.S. citizen with an American flag Sept. 1, 2008, during a citizenship ceremony at Al Faw Palace on Camp Victory in Baghdad. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Christopher M. Gaylord, 13th Public Affairs Detachment
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, Multinational Corps Iraq commander, presided over the ceremony and, along with Lori Pietropaoli, deputy district director, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, presented a certificate of naturalization to each new citizen. This ceremony was the 12th of its kind in Iraq.
"I am extremely honored to preside over such an important event for these great men and women," Austin said. "Today, we have the opportunity to welcome 192 of our fellow brothers and sisters in arms into our American family."
Austin took time to individually recognize two troops, Marine Corps Sgt. Sidney King III and Army Spc. Alan Wyrwa, both of whom overcame numerous challenges to become U.S. citizens.
Wyrwa lived in communist-controlled East Germany until he and his mother risked their lives escaping to West Germany when he was 5 years old. King came to the United States in 1988 and spent his first five years separated from his parents. He worked tirelessly to obtain a visitor's visa, and later a green card, to stay in the United States. For the last nine years, he has served in the Marine Corps.
For many, the event was the highlight of a lifetime and the beginning of many new opportunities.
"I can't describe my feelings," said Army Spc. Steven Chol, interpreter for the corps command sergeant major's personal security detachment, originally from Sudan. "I'm so happy for what happened today, becoming a U.S. citizen.”
Togo native Army Spc. Dodji Kuwonu, a 10th Mountain Division cannon crewmember with 5-25th Field Artillery Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, said citizenship is a big step toward future ambitions. "I'm proud to be an American," Kuwonu said. "I've got a lot of opportunities now. A lot of doors are open for me."
Austin echoed that sentiment in his remarks to the new citizens.
"Each of you has opened a door of opportunity through your own hard work, and through the support of your families and loved ones," the general said. "Today, each of you has achieved a significant goal, and I know it wasn't easy, but the great news is that you aren't at the end of your journey – you are at the beginning of a new one."
(Army Spc. Christopher M. Gaylord serves with the 13th Public Affairs Detachment.)