Servicemembers Receive Memorial Day Gift of U.S. Citizenship
May 30, 2007
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (Army News Service, May 30, 2007) - It was a proud day for 19 active-duty servicemembers who took the oath of allegiance making them among the newest U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony here Memorial Day.
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, William Wood, delivered the keynote address and with the help of Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez, commanding general, 82nd Airborne Division and Combined Joint Task Force-82, they presented the servicemembers with their certificates of citizenship.
Pamela Hutchings, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer-in-charge, led the servicemembers in the oath of allegiance formally making them U.S. citizens.
"Today is a day for celebration as we welcome our brothers and sisters in arms as they take their places as members of the greatest democracy on the earth," said Maj. Gen. Rodriguez. "There is no better way for us to recognize the sacrifices they are making here than to grant them the right to call themselves Americans. They join over twenty thousand Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who, since 2002, have taken the oath of citizenship during the war on terror and become citizens of the nation they have risked their lives to defend.
"We want to say to every one of you; we are proud of the job you are doing here. We are proud that you chose to become a citizen of the United States of America. We are proud to be your leaders," he said.
The general shared his thoughts on the induction of the newest American citizens, "It is a pleasure to participate in today's ceremony. I can't think of any place I would rather be than here on Memorial Day to assist with this naturalization ceremony for our servicemembers. The United States of America has no greater strength than our newest citizens, who by their service and by their oath have joined forever our country and our effort and our values.
The new citizens are from American Samoa, Antigua-Barbuda, Argentina, Belize, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Republic of the Philippines, Sierra Leone, St. Vincent and Taiwan.
After emigrating from the Philippines to the U.S. at age 15, 21-year-old Spc. Ma Estrellita Dasmarinas, a human resource specialist, said she was thrilled to receive her citizenship.
"I'm very excited about getting my citizenship. It is a privilege and an honor to have the ambassador and the general here for my ceremony," Spc. Dasmarinas said with a smile. "I can't wait to call home and tell them the big news."
Staff Sgt. Hughan Drew, an automated logistical specialist from Alpha Company, 782nd Brigade Support Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, and his wife, Spc. Kemisha Woods, an automated supply specialist from Golf Company 2nd Battalion, 321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 82nd Abn. Div. had the opportunity to share in the naturalization ceremony together.
"We put our paperwork together, but we never planned on being naturalized together, but it happened like that, and we're happy it worked out that way," said Woods. "We are both very excited. We're proud to be Americans."
The couple said they will complete their tour in Afghanistan early next year and hope to continue their education and serving their country.
President George W. Bush signed the National Defense Authorization Act in November 2003. The act amended portions of the Immigration and Nationality Act allowing for overseas military naturalization ceremonies.
Before Oct. 1, 2004, servicemembers could only be naturalized while physically within the U.S. Since the initiation of the program in 2004, more than 3,600 Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines have been naturalized overseas.
(Senior Airman Dilia DeGrego serves with Combined Jointed Task Force 82 Public Affairs.)