Kenner NCO becomes U.S. citizen at White House ceremony
July 10, 2014
WASHINGTON (July 10, 2014) -- For Sgt. Stephanie Van Ausdall, a medic at Kenner Army Health Clinic, becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen was a dream come true in several ways.
The ceremony with her commander in chief present Friday was an experience she never considered possible. But in a country where dreams often become realities, Van Ausdall did both.
"It all seemed so surreal to me," she said. "I don't know what I imagined the White House would be like, but it exceeded any expectations I may have had."
In an Independence Day ceremony in the East Room at the White House, Van Ausdall took the oath of citizenship with 24 other service members and military spouses selected by representatives of the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Office. Because service members are eligible for citizenship after serving one year during peacetime, Van Ausdall's application to become a citizen was expedited and she learned early last week she'd be among the service members chosen to be sworn in as an American citizen with President Barack Obama watching.
Van Ausdall also was selected by the White House Military Office to lead the new citizens and other audience members in the "Pledge of Allegiance" where she misspoke.
"I was reciting the words in my head at the same time. I was saying them when I looked up and smiled at my family, and I was overwhelmed with emotion," she noted.
Van Ausdall described it as realizing the magnitude of the event at that moment.
"I felt like a complete idiot missing the word 'indivisible' but as I walked away, President Obama grabbed my shoulder and gave me a hug," she said. "He said something that made me feel better about making that mistake. He told me that he sometimes gets nervous too."
During his remarks at the ceremony, President Obama mentioned Van Ausdall who was born in Canada and came to the U.S. when she was 18 years old. She joined the Army six years ago and hasn't had a voice in any direction the country she serves went.
Obama said, "Stephanie says she joined the military 'to give my children someone to look up to and someone they can be proud of.' Stephanie, I know that you've made your children and all of us very proud."
"The president said a phrase that summed up everything that I was feeling," Van Ausdall said. "He said, 'You signed up to serve in the United States military. You answered the call -- to fight and potentially to give your life for a country that you didn't fully belong to yet.'"
Van Ausdall said the ceremony opportunity came along so quickly that travel orders weren't able to be arranged. Thus, to make her trip of a lifetime possible, members of her company stepped up to offer financial assistance.
"The generosity of my Kenner family solidified the feeling that this country is where I am meant to live my life," she said. "I know I truly belong now."