As the U.S. commemorates Presidents Day, 53 Soldiers from 31 countries, became citizens of the country they currently serve during a naturalization ceremony in Al Faw Palace, Feb. 21.

This ceremony, the 19th held in Iraq, is the final step toward becoming a U.S. citizen. It also affords an opportunity to recognize the contributions of those who serve in defense of the nation before
claiming it as their own.

"These men and women are exceptional because they have risked much to leave their homelands and to swear an oath to protect the United States of America - a country they have loved but couldn't call their own," said Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commanding general, United States Forces - Iraq.

"I didn't think I could be a U.S. citizen by joining the Army," said Sgt. Castulo Vera, from Mexico, and a medic with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade.

"Becoming an American citizen is a great honor," said Spc. Misael Ramos- Saenz, also from Mexico, and a mechanic with the Combat Repair Team, 2nd Brigade, 11th Field Artillery Regiment.
"I am able to give back to the nation for all the great things it has provided for me over these years."

As the troops took the Oath of Allegiance, pledging to uphold the U.S. Constitution, the star-spangled American flag became their national banner.

"I am proud to earn the right to become an American," said Sgt. Ramon F. Martin, a Russian, and a team leader for Co. B, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Reg., 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry

Division. "It is not about filling out paperwork, but fighting for a nation that has given me so much."

To gain citizenship in the U.S., service members must qualify for eligibility through demonstrations of good moral character, understanding the U.S. history and government, and most importantly, comprehending the English language.

This is an extensive process which involves detailed applications, interviews and reviews, which usually are the longest phases of the naturalization process. But, from the looks of these newly naturalized citizens, it is well worth the wait.

A range of emotions were displayed on the faces of the Soldiers as they listened to Lee Greenwood's patriotic song, "Proud to be an American."

"It feels really good to finally be a part of a country I have lived in all my life," Vera said.

At the end of the ceremony, the new citizens leave with keepsakes marking the end of their journey toward U.S. citizenship. Each one possessed an American flag, a certificate of citizenship and memories of the day he or she became an American.

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