Bidens Attend Naturalization Ceremony in Iraq
By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq, July 4, 2010 Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, presided over a naturalization ceremony in Al Faw Palace here today in honor of 156 servicemembers who earned their U.S. citizenship through service to the nation.
Vice President Joe Biden congratulates a soldier on becoming a U.S. citizen during a naturalization ceremony in Al Faw Palace on Camp Victory, Iraq, July 4, 2010. Biden's wife, Dr. Jill Biden, and Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of U.S. Forces Iraq, also attended the event, during which more than 150 U.S. servicemembers became U.S. citizens. DoD photo by Elaine Wilson
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Backed by a ceiling-high U.S. flag, Biden congratulated the nation's newest citizens -- who represented all branches of service and 56 different countries -- calling them a "remarkable" group.
"What a sight you are today," the vice president told the troops in the ornate palace atrium. "What a powerful symbol you represent to all those who yearn for freedom all across the world."
The ceremony takes place on a fitting day, Biden said. "This Fourth of July weekend, I'm reminded that you have carried the torch of our founding fathers, the one that they lit 234 years ago," he said. "You carried it around the world, in this case in a uniform representing a nation that, until now, was not your own."
Biden said he can't think of a more stirring example of patriotism than men and women volunteering "to fight for their country, to put their lives on the line -- and some of your brethren, having lost their lives and limbs -- to fight on foreign soil for their adopted country."
Serving in Iraq has not been easy, the vice president acknowledged. But each time he visits here, he said, he sees progress.
"This nation, once embroiled in sectarian strife and violence, is moving toward a lasting security and prosperity with a government that represents the interest of every member of the community in Iraq,” he said. “When the new government is formed, it will mark something absolutely extraordinary: a peaceful transition of power encompassing all the people of Iraq."
The United States is committed to cementing an ongoing relationship with Iraq through economic, political and diplomatic cooperation, he added.
Biden said he projected last summer that by now the United States would have achieved progress toward two goals: helping Iraq become a "sovereign, stable and self-reliant" nation and ending the combat mission after more than seven years.
"And I'm proud to report that because of you, and tens of thousands of our sons and daughters, including our son, we've made good on that promise," he said, referring to his son, Beau, an officer in the Delaware Army National Guard who served in Iraq.
As of today, about 82,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, down from 165,000 at the height of the surge. The number will drop to 50,000 by the end of the summer, and the troops will remain in an "advise-and-assist" role. The U.S.-Iraqi security agreement calls for all U.S. troops to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.
For the troops who remain, Biden pledged to provide them with everything they need and to care for their families. That commitment extends to when they return home, he added.
"Quite simply, we owe you," he said. "We owe all of you. And we owe your families."
Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of U.S. Forces Iraq, also spoke at the ceremony, expressing his gratitude for the servicemembers who chose to become citizens. Even before they had the right of U.S. citizenship, "you held up your right hand and volunteered to go into harm's way."
Their service brings others liberty and hope, he said, adding that he's honored to call them comrades in arms.
After the ceremony, the Bidens stopped by the Oasis Dining Facility here to visit U.S. servicemembers and civilians. The vice president then left to meet with senior Iraqi leaders, while Dr. Biden greeted 1st Armored Division soldiers here celebrating the Fourth of July holiday.