Camp Casey sees 11 become American citizens
At Camp Casey's Community Activity Center Jan. 4, 11 foreign-born members of the U.S. military community were sworn in as naturalized citizens of the United States. Of the 11, eight were U.S. Soldiers, the others wives of Soldiers. It was the first naturalization ceremony ever held in Area I. At left, administering the Oath of Allegiance, is Walter L. Haith, field office director with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Seoul.

CAMP CASEY, South Korea -- Eight foreign-born members of the U.S. military community in Area I were sworn in as American citizens in a naturalization ceremony at Camp Casey Jan. 4.

It was the first naturalization ceremony ever held in Area I and also happened to be the first the U.S. government has held anywhere in the world this year.

The 11 -- eight Soldiers and three Soldiers' wives -- were born in such places as Thailand, Russia, Korea, and elsewhere.

They became citizens after taking the oath of allegiance administered by an official of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Walter L. Haith, field office director with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Seoul.

The half-hour ceremony began at 10:30 a.m. in the long, gray-carpeted conference room of the Community Activity Center.

An audience of about 50 people stood as the 2nd Infantry Division Band's brass quintet played the National Anthem at the start of the ceremony.

They heard brief remarks from Mark A. Tokola, deputy chief for mission at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.

"Naturalized citizens are key elements of our great democracy," he said. "My mother and father were naturalized citizens," he said. "I've never taken for granted that it was their decision to become U.S. citizens that gave me the life that I have been able to live…"

Maj. Gen. Edward C. Cardon, commanding general of the 2nd Infantry Division, delivered the keynote remarks.

"My mother's a naturalized citizen," Cardon said. "She's born in 1940 in Holland, lived under the Nazi occupation, came to this country, went through Ellis Island, and settled in California, and I've been blessed ever since to be part of that," he said.

"Her stories are amazing, as are yours, and every American has a story to tell," he said.

With citizenship, said Cardon, "come duties and responsibilities and I hope that you continue to perform those duties and responsibilities in the very best manner that you can.

"Because it's people like you that come to America, become American citizens, that add to the fabric and the strength of our society," Cardon said.

The audience was also shown a video in which President Obama welcomed the new citizens.

"Today marks a very special day in your life," the president said." You've traveled a long path to get here.

"With the privilege of citizenship though, come great responsibilities," Obama said." And so I ask that you use your freedoms and your talents to contribute to the good of our nation, and the world…."

Among the new citizens was Pfc. Phannamat Shunnak, 26, a truck driver assigned to Company G, 115th Field Artillery, at Camp Hovey.

Her mother works at a shopette at Fort Hood, Texas, she said, and had already been there about ten years when in 2007 Shunnak joined her mother there.

"Actually, my mom, she wants me to become citizen, that's the main reason," Shunnak said after the ceremony.

"First of all, I got U.S. passport and I don't need to hold Green Card or be worried I'm going to lose it, because that's very important," she said. "So now I have just passport -- I'm good to go."

Asked what she understood was the point made during the ceremony about citizenship carrying certain responsibilities, she said "I think that means, now we become American, so that's mean that we have to serve this country and protect against all the enemies this country."

Another of the new citizens was Zhanna Spelling, 25, born in Vladivostok. Her father's Russian, her mother from Kazakhstan.

She's married to Sgt. Adrian Spelling, 22, a radar operator at Camp Hovey with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 15th Field Artillery.

Becoming a citizen, she said, "only makes sense because I plan to live in the States with my husband for the rest of my life and I really like American. It's a good country."

"It's a big accomplishment," said her husband. "To begin with, it's a long process, so it's a great fulfillment to finally have that done.

"Also," he said, "it gives her the ability to get a job as a U.S. citizen and things like that… And now that she has that, no matter where we go, she has the same opportunities as everybody else and that's a good feeling to have, that she can go out and do her own thing and she doesn't need me to survive."

Page last updated Fri January 13th, 2012 at 00:00