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Troops Become Citizens During Memorable Naturalization Ceremony

By U.S. Army Pfc. Cody A. Thompson
American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan , May 25, 2009 – One hundred and six servicemembers, including 94 soldiers, 10 Marines and two sailors, from countries from Mexico to Japan, celebrated their first Memorial Day as U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony here today.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Servicemembers celebrate their first Memorial Day as U.S. citizens at a naturalization ceremony, May 25, 2009 at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo
  

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

 

After a long naturalization process, emotions ran high as the servicemembers’ journey finally came to an end.

“It’s very overwhelming, I’m in harm’s way every day and have worked very hard to get to this point,” said Army Spc. Rhett Cayobit, a Philippine native. “I was very lucky that my unit supported me from day one.” Cayobit is an engineer with the 68th Combat Support Equipment Company, 62nd Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade

Servicemembers stood proud as they heard trumpets sound their new national anthem. After the last note fell and the servicemembers took their seats, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, commanding general for Combined Joint Task Force-101 spoke about what it means to be a U.S. citizen.

“This is a privilege, but one you’ve earned,” Schloesser said.

Corinna Luna-Benavides, the field office director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for the Middle East spoke to the audience of about 325 people.

“Historically this is the largest group to gain their citizenship in Afghanistan, hopefully on Veterans Day in November we will have even more,” she said.

The naturalization process involves detailed applications, interviews, and reviews that normally takes nine months. For Sgt. Young Kim, a South Korea native and a transportation non-commissioned officer with the 154th Transportation Company from Fort Hood, Texas, it took eight years.

“It’s so relieving because now I can bring my family over to the U.S.,” said Kim. “I had to submit my packet four times but now that I have my citizenship. I plan on getting my security clearance and going to Officer Candidate School.”

For the first time in Afghanistan, a taped video message from President Barack Obama was shown, congratulating the newest citizens of the U.S.

“This now officially your country,” said Obama. “In America, no dream is impossible. Together we can keep the beacon of America bright enough for all the world to see.”

(Army Pfc. Cody A. Thompson serves with the 40th Public Affairs Detachment)

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