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Gates Salutes New Citizens for Service, Sacrifice

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

POPE AIR FORCE BASE, N.C., Oct. 23, 2008 – Presiding over a naturalization ceremony here today, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called it an honor “to welcome into citizenship 42 men and women who have served and sacrificed for their country before it officially was their country.”

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Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates presents Army Sgt. Michael Santos, 82nd Airborne Division, with a certificate of U.S. citizenship during a naturalization ceremony Oct. 23, 2008, at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. Nearly 40 servicemembers representing the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines became U.S. citizens during the ceremony. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Tony Hawkins

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

Gates kicked off his first visit to Fayetteville, N.C., home to both Pope Air Force Base and Fort Bragg, presenting citizenship certificates to 42 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who hail from 26 countries, many of whom have served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Jonathan Scharfen, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, administered the oath of citizenship.

“The oath you have just sworn brings a deep sense of pride to you and your families and your comrades-in-arms,” Gates told the group as he recognized their contributions to American principles. All are volunteers who “have stepped forward at a difficult and dangerous time for freedom-loving people everywhere,” he said, willingly putting themselves in harm’s way for causes they believe in.

“Throughout U.S. history, new citizens in every walk of life have made America a better place,” he said. “As soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, you give what is invaluable: your skills, talents and courage.”

Gates noted that nearly 43,000 men and women in uniform have become U.S. citizens since Sept. 11, 2001. He called it fitting and just that President Bush signed an executive order that makes all foreign-born, active-duty servicemembers immediately eligible for U.S. citizenship.

“This nation that welcomes you with warmth and with pride is very much in your debt, because you have shown your love for this country in the most honorable way possible,” the secretary said.

Among the new citizens is Army Sgt. 1st Class Ulisses Chavez, a native of Honduras serving with the 504th Brigade Special Troops Battalion. With 11 years in the Army, including two deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan, Chavez said, he’s proud to now be a U.S. citizen, and particularly proud to have the secretary of defense at his naturalization ceremony.

“It’s an honor,” he said, citing Gates’ “great speech” that drew comparisons between America’s founding fathers and those who serve the country today.

“I see this is an accomplishment,” Chavez said. “It’s the next step forward, and from here I plan to keep moving on and up.”

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Robert M. Gates

Related Sites:
Pope Air Force Base, N.C.
Fort Bragg, N.C.

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