BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (Army News Service, May 26, 2008) - The poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty beckons "Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses longing to be free," but on this Memorial Day, quite the opposite was true as 44 members of the U.S. military marched forward to become America's newest citizens.

In the presence of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, U.S. Immigration Service's acting director Jonathan Scharfen, and Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, commander of Combined Joint Task Force-101, 44 service members from 21 countries swore oaths of allegiance and became U.S. citizens.

"On behalf of President Bush and a grateful nation, I say welcome," said Chertoff to the new American Citizens.

With the swearing in of these 44 service members, 312 military men and women have gained citizenship while deployed to Afghanistan since beginning the War on Terror, said Stacy K. Strong, Deputy District Director of the American Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has naturalized more than 39,085 service members since the beginning of the war, according to a May 2008 USCIS fact sheet.

"There is no honor greater than presiding over an oath ceremony and there is no better place to do it than here," said Chertoff. "You have all earned your citizenship through your service. Starting today, America is as much your country as it is mine."

Under an executive order, legal permanent residents actively serving in the U.S. military, and legal permanent residents who were on active duty on, or after Sept. 11, 2001 and honorably discharged, are immediately eligible to apply for naturalization.

One Soldier expressed his feelings toward becoming a U.S. citizen.

"This feels really great - closure to the 'history' chapter in my life and the beginning of my future," said Army Pvt. Mark Paguio, 23.

Paguio, a Philippine native, led the other service members in their recital of the <i> Pledge of Allegiance </i>. "Becoming a U.S. citizen has opened many doors," he said.

In unison, the Soldiers and Marines raised their right hands and swore to support and defend the Constitution against foreign and domestic enemies, and to bear arms when required by law. For the service members who are all currently serving in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom or the International Security Assistance Force, the oath was merely an affirmation of what they have worked so hard to secure.

"This day means everything to me," said Marine Lance Cpl. Artem Starovoyt, a Ukraine native who now resides in Philadelphia. "I have been out on the front lines doing what I can for my nation - and now I can officially call America home."

The service members came from 21 countries: Jamaica, Columbia, Philippines, Peru, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Australia, Poland, Ghana, Iran, Mexico, El Salvador, Haiti, Sierra Leone, Trinidad and Tobago, Germany, Cuba, Nigeria, St. Vincent-Grenadines and Ukraine.

(Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace serves with CJTF-101 Public Affairs)

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