Service members take Independence Day citizenship oath
July 14, 2013
BAGRAM, Afghanistan --"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America," said more than 150 service members and civilians gathered together in a large tent at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan July 4.
For many in attendance, saying the pledge of allegiance is nothing new, but for 37 of the service members, it was their first time as an American citizen.
Minutes earlier, they had taken the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America during a naturalization ceremony, hosted by Combined Joint Task Force-101, Regional Command-East.
Service members from all over Afghanistan came together to declare their allegiance to the United States of America. Individually, serving in the military and being deployed to a foreign country each provide a certain amount of honor. Immigrants who volunteer for military service and deploy to war for a country they do not yet belong, adds respect to that honor.
Military service by immigrants is nothing new. Since the time of the Revolutionary War, immigrants have been stepping up, volunteering to fight for freedom.
Thaddeus Kosciuszko is a prime example.
Kosciuszko, a Polish engineering officer, offered his services to George Washington during the war for American Independence. A bit hesitant, Washington asked, "What can you do?"
"Try me," was Kosciuszko's reply.
"Since that time our nation has been willing to take a chance when an immigrant reports to the recruiting station and says, 'Try me,'" said General Joseph F. Dunford, commander, International Security Assistance Force.
Military service members are a small part of the total American population. The 30 soldiers and seven Marines who declared their allegiance represent 22 different countries from around the world.
"Less than 2 percent serve in uniform. By your service here in Afghanistan, you've already done more than most Americans will do in a lifetime," said Dunford. "You chose to support and defend the Constitution that did not fully protect you. You chose to defend a people you didn't yet fully belong to. You chose to protect those values, ideals, and a way of life before it was yours."
After the attacks to the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, there was a need to protect our freedom. Spc. Sahib Singh, moved to the United States from India at age 14. He joined the Army in response to the terrorist attacks.
"I live in New York," said Singh, vender service technician, 4th Financial Management Support Unit, Bravo Detachment, Fort Bliss, Texas. "I have wanted to serve since 9/11."
The War on Terrorism brought the fight for freedom to the forefront.
"You have defended the American people against terrorism and you have played a role in the spreading the 'Spirit of '76' to the Afghan people," said Dunford.
Working side-by-side with Afghans, service members witness first-hand the struggles for a future with peace and freedom.
"We are in a country that for 30 years had suffered almost continued warfare. We work with people who are brave, and exhausted and who only want their share, their version, of what we have back home and they deserve here: peace and a chance of a better future for their children and for their country," said the Honorable Ambassador David M. Robinson, Assistant Chief of Missions, Kabul."
Regardless of their background, these service members are the face and future of America.
"You are deployed on behalf of the United States of America because we recognize what happens here in Afghanistan matters to us. It matters to our national interests and to our national values," said Robinson. "You are here because you are America's forward presence. You are the fact of America's strength and you are the symbol of America's resolve."
The tenacity of Kosciuszko's "Try me" spirit runs in the blood of the immigrant volunteers serving today.
"To me, if I can do my part, it's great," said Singh.
These service members did 'their part' and took on the responsibilities of a citizen, before they were eligible to receive a citizen's privileges.
"The uniforms you wear, your presence here in Afghanistan on a day when most Americans are safe and secure with their families and friends are eloquent testimony to your allegiance, to your courage and to your loyalty," said Robinson. "You are eloquent testimony to the best that America is. Having borne those hard responsibilities you are now about to enjoy the full rights of citizenship."
Benefits of American citizenship include the right to vote, option to bring family members to the U.S., keeping residency and eligibility for federal grants and scholarships.
"I am finally a U.S. citizen," said Spc. Gabriella Malsol, human resources specialist, Headquarters Headquarters Company, 1 Battalion-249th Infantry Regiment, Task Force Guam.
Malsol was born in the Republic of Palau.
"Today all the benefits of being an American are yours and the American Dream is now your dream," said Dunford.
Spc. Karlen Minasyan , combat engineer, 59th Mobility Augmentation Company, Fort Hood, Texas, plans to get a master's degree and become an officer through the Green to Gold Program offered by the Army.
U.S. citizenship is one of the requirements to become a U.S. Army officer.
Militarily, the major benefit of citizenship is the ability to acquire a security clearance, opening the door to further opportunities and advancement.
"It's a little start for my future goals, life and career," said Minasyan, a native of Gyumri, Armenia.
"I got one little piece of a big country," he said.