82nd Airborne Division welcomes its newest citizens
September 18, 2012
WILMINGTON, N.C. -- Nearly 100 people from all over the world walked together onto the USS North Carolina Battleship Memorial to participate in a ceremony to become citizens of the United States of America. It was fitting for the national holiday, Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. More than half of the candidates to swear allegiance to America to the first time were in military uniform.
Every branch was represented, especially the U.S. Army. And more profoundly, the All American Division was represented in every Brigade Combat Team. The division was named for its representation of every State in the Union, and was the first racially integrated division in the Army.
"Today we came here as citizens from all over the world," said Jeffrey Sapko, the field office director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Raleigh. "We will all leave here as American citizens."
Among the Soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen, and civilians, were five Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division, and even more from Fort Bragg, N.C. Their origins spanned the globe from Mexico, to Russia, to the Federated State of Micronesia.
Originating from Micronesia and representing 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion was Spc. Phillip Fithing. Fithing, who says he left behind a relaxed life on his island in the Pacific Ocean, joined the Army right after high school. "I could have stayed and gone to college," he said. "I really just wanted to join the Army.
As citizens, immigrants have far more opportunities in the United States, along with added rights such as the right to vote. Fithing's citizenship was about giving more to his new country and the Army. "I can now get a security clearance and there's more I can do," he said. He plans on staying in the Army until he retires.
In maintaining the true spirit of comradery and brotherhood, Spc. Luis Francisco Lopes of 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division was accompanied by his entire platoon for support and a cheer section. His first day as an American citizen was christened with a promotion on the ship's deck from Private First Class to Specialist after the ceremony.
"I love America!" Lopes exclaimed following the ceremony.
Sapko made a special note of the fact that so many of the day's newest citizens were serving in the military, and many had already served tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. Sapko, a U.S. Army veteran, said that he and the rest of the country were proud to grant citizenship to the finest and most honorable American citizens the world could offer.