Troops in Iraq Become U.S. Citizens on Election Day
By Army Spc. Christopher M. Gaylord
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Nov. 4, 2008 On a day when Americans exercised their right to vote, 186 servicemembers deployed across Iraq became U.S. citizens today at Al Faw Palace on Camp Victory here.
U.S. Army Spc. Jose Aguirre-Delgado receives an American flag from Lori Pietropaoli, deputy director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Nov. 4, 2008, during a U.S. citizenship ceremony at Al Faw Palace on Camp Victory, Iraq. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Christopher M. Gaylord
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, presided over the ceremony. He expressed his appreciation for each new citizen and expounded on the significance of the step they had taken.
"Diverse as your backgrounds may be, you all now have one thing in common: you are all Americans," Odierno said. "You represent the very best of all that our nation stands for: freedom, opportunity, equality and service."
The ceremony was the 12th of its kind to be held in Iraq, but for many troops, it took on special meaning, as it occurred on Election Day for U.S. citizens. The newly naturalized servicemembers - from 60 different countries - had earned the right to vote for their new leaders.
"I'm excited to be able to vote," said Army Spc. Ruth McKoy, a supply specialist with 62nd Quartermaster Company, 553 Sustainment Brigade. "If something good comes out of a future election, I can say I had something to do with that. It's like my voice is being heard now."
McKoy, born in Jamaica, joined the Army in December 2002 and has since aspired to become an American citizen. After one unsuccessful application in Germany, she said, she decided to apply for citizenship a second time from Fort Hood, Texas, and finally achieved her goal.
Spc. Rasha Hennessy, a linguist with 1st Higher Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 206th Field Artillery, 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, was born in Baghdad, just miles from where she took her oath of U.S. citizenship.
"Honestly, I can't even think of how blessed I am to have this privilege," Hennessy said. "It's a great thing."
She said she is ecstatic to attain her citizenship on such an important day for the United States, and she compared the freedoms she will have as a U. S. citizen to those under Saddam Hussein’s regime years ago in Iraq.
"It's a really good opportunity to be able to vote freely and not live in fear," Hennessy said.
Though the 186 servicemembers are new U.S. citizens, many said they’ve always felt the unity all Americans feel when serving in the military, and realize every servicemember is fighting for a common goal.
"We all play a big part in what's going on over here," McKoy said. "We're doing everything we can to help Iraq gain its democracy."
(Army Spc. Christopher M. Gaylord serves with the 13th Public Affairs Detachment.)