KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Eighty-eight Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from 37 different countries took the Oath of Allegiance and became U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony Oct. 1 at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.

The naturalization candidates are natives of countries such as Afghanistan, China, Haiti, and Mexico, and all currently serve in the U.S. military.

Becoming a naturalized citizen is a way for people who were not born in the U.S. to become citizens. Naturalized citizens swear by oath "to renounce their allegiance to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty and vow to protect and defend the United States of America."

The remarkable thing is that this oath is not much different from the oath these servicemembers have already sworn when they joined the military, said Chris Bentley, press secretary for U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services.

"I think (the similarity in the oaths) makes the ceremony even more special for members of the military," Bentley said.

He said what made this naturalization ceremony so special is that it was held in an active combat zone for servicemembers who have been fighting for freedoms and liberties they had not even secured for themselves.

One of the recently naturalized citizens at the ceremony was Pfc. Liliana D. Sanchez, a Dominican Republic native and Afghan Air Force mentor for Headquarters and Support Battery, 117th Field Artillery Regiment.

"It fills you with pride because you're already serving your country, so it's that much more exciting when you become a citizen," she said.

Normally, immigrants need to be permanent residents for five years before they can apply for naturalization, but this is not the case for servicemembers. In 2003, former President George W. Bush signed an executive order stating that U.S. military servicemembers only need to serve one day of active duty time before they can file for citizenship.

"For some of these servicemembers (becoming naturalized) is a lifelong dream," said Bentley. "Other than a birth of a child or maybe marriage, it's the most important day in their lives. It's the day they become a United States citizen."

"It feels great," said Sanchez. "I'm officially a part of America."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16