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Chairman Addresses the American Dream

By Staff Sgt. Lee Roberts, USAF
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12, 1996 – "I once heard someone ask, 'What's the difference between the American dream and everyone else's dream?' The answer is that everybody else's dream is to come to America," said Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili at a naturalization ceremony in the rotunda of the National Archives and Records Administration here.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the 34 immigrants, naturalized by Judge Stanley Sporkin, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, that he too is an immigrant. He said the "dream to come to America binds us all together."

The general -- in front of the original U.S. Constitution -- said the dream came true for his family in 1952, when they came to "the magical place called America." He said America is a country where "if you work hard, you could become anything you want to be, a cowboy, a banker, a baker or even chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."

Shalikashvili said he, his parents and sister marched down to the courthouse in Peoria, Ill., in May 1958 and raised their hands to become U.S. citizens, "much like you just did," he said. "It was for me the most important day of my life because, you see, for the very first time, I was a citizen of a nation. Not just any nation, but the world's greatest nation, the United States of America." As refugees, the Shalikashvilis were stateless until that day in May 1958, he said.

Within a matter of days the same month, Shalikashvili graduated from college and was drafted into the U.S. Army. He said he never intended to make it a career, but in time, "the excitement of military service and the deep satisfaction of serving my new country convinced me that the Army is where I belonged. That was 38 years ago, and I can't think of a single day that I regretted that decision."

Shalikashvili joined the Army's enlisted ranks in August 1958 and rose through the ranks. On Oct. 25, 1993, he assumed duties as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As the highest-ranking officer in the military, he is the principal military adviser to the president, the secretary of defense and the National Security Council.

"Today, as it was 38 years ago, America is still a place with unlimited opportunities for those who work hard to realize their dreams we just talked about," Shalikashvili told the new group of U.S. citizens. "Our success as a nation is based on the fact that although we come from so many different lands, we share a common set of beliefs about freedom and about the dignity of man.

"For you, today, as it was for me in 1958, this is truly the dawn of a new day. It doesn't matter how old or young you are, whether you're big or small, a man or a woman, for today you are Americans ... members of the greatest democracy in the history of man," he said.

The general urged the new citizens to assume the responsibilities of citizenship. He said immigrants are expected to defend the U.S. Constitution, become productive members of the country -- strengthening neighborhoods, improving communities and enhancing the workings of government. Shalikashvili stressed the importance of exercising the rights of citizens and encouraged participation in the election of representatives, to obey the laws of the land and certainly, respect the rights of others.

"Today, you also join the ranks of those that must jealously guard our freedom," he said. "It is not an easy task, but a task that must be done if the next generation of Americans is to prosper."

Sgt. Roberts is the editor of J-Scope, an electronic newsletter for the Joint Staff.

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