CAMP VICTORY, Iraq - Fifty service members deployed to Iraq took the Oath of Allegiance, Nov. 11, becoming U.S. citizens in a special Veterans Day ceremony on Camp Victory, Iraq.

The service members joined the ranks of approximately 65,000 men and women from the military who have been naturalized since Sept. 1 2001, according to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services press release. The department naturalized 11,146 service members in fiscal year 2010 alone, the highest number of naturalized service members since 1955, and a 6 percent increase from fiscal year 2009's total.

Candidates for naturalized citizenship must typically be a resident of the U.S. for five years, but the process is expedited by military service.

Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Forces-Iraq, presided over the ceremony.

"American citizenship is a gift, and it's one that all of you have earned through your service," said Austin in his opening speech. "But I also believe that the United States of America received a gift by your citizenship. You are a very special group of people and America is a better nation for including you among its citizens."

Austin also thanked the new citizens for their contributions to the Iraq war, saying that their service will have "an impact on our national objectives in the region for many years to come." He added that their choice to serve before having citizenship demonstrated a strong commitment to the country.

Immediately following Austin's speech, the service members were led in the Oath of Allegiance by a USCIS official. Several of the participants belong to the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, an Army aviation unit from Fort Riley, Kan.

For most of these new citizens, the consensus was that gaining citizenship was an easy and rewarding process.

Pfc. Hermilo Lopez came to the U.S. when he was four months old, and he is now serving as a cook in an Apache helicopter battalion.

"The Army sped up this process for me," said Lopez. "It's a special thing, an honor that a lot of people don't get to do."

Most of the other service members from the brigade also came to the U.S. at a young age. The states have always been considered home by Pfc. Sandra Colocho, who emigrated to the U.S. from El Salvador when she was only 11months old.

"I look forward to voting, getting my voice heard," said Colocho, who serves as her unit's supply clerk.

"The process was easy for me," she said. "From the point when I submitted my application, it only took four months to get granted citizenship."

Other members of the brigade that were granted citizenship in the ceremony emigrated from countries including China, American Samoa, Romania, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and the Philippines. The brigade also had several troops become naturalized citizens in an Independence Day ceremony this summer.

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