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Bush Observes Naturalization Ceremony for Wounded Soldiers

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 24, 2006 – President Bush participated in the naturalization ceremony for three soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here today.

The three men are recovering from wounds suffered in combat in Iraq.

"Through the generations, our nation has remained strong and free because men and women put on our uniform and defend this country, and defend our beliefs," Bush said before the swearing-in. "The three men we honor today have brought honor to America. Like those who have come before, each of these men chose to protect our country because they love what America stands for."

Army Spc. Sergio Lopez joined the Army in 2003, and was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. Lopez, originally from Mexico, grew up in Bowlingbrook, Ill. The infantryman was driving a Humvee south of Baghdad when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device. His legs were shattered, and when he arrived home, he had to make the decision to amputate both legs.

"Specialist Lopez says that becoming a citizen 'represents being acknowledged as having done my duty, having done my part for the country, like the oath says, defending the United States,'" Bush said.

Army Pfc. Eduardo Leal-Cardenas is also originally from Mexico. He, too, hit an IED. The blast shattered the bones in both legs, broke his femur, broke his ribs, broke his back and neck. "Private Leal-Cardenas is a man of few words, and he's a man of action," the president said. "When some questioned whether he would ever walk again, he laughed, and he began his rehab while still in his bed. When Private Leal-Cardenas is asked what citizenship in America means to him, he just said one word: 'Freedom.'"

Army Spc. Lito Santos-Dilone was injured while serving as part of the protection detail in Iraq. "I first met Specialist Santos-Dilone at this year's National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast," Bush said. "I was working the rope line. He grabbed my hand, and he said, 'I'm not a citizen of the United States and I want to be one.' Now, here's a man who knows how to take it directly to the top. I'm proud to be here when he gets sworn in."

There are more than 33,000 non-U.S. citizens serving in the U.S. military. "Just like everybody else who wears the uniform, they understand the stakes of what it means to serve in the United States military, particularly after Sept. 11, 2001," Bush said. "After that date, I signed an executive order making foreign-born members of our military immediately eligible for U.S. citizenship when they serve on active duty. It made sense to me. If somebody is willing to risk their life for our country, they ought to be full participants in our country."

Bush said it was a joyful day for the soldiers and a joyful day for him, "and it's a proud day for our nation. We gain three new citizens today, men who knew the cost of freedom and are willing to pay that cost so others can live free. It's a privilege to be their commander in chief, and I look forward to calling them fellow citizens," he said.

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Related Sites:
Transcript of President Bush's Remarks
Walter Reed Army Medical Center


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