By Steven Morgan, USAG-YongsanJuly 4, 2008
YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea - During today's July Fourth Festival, the community celebrated Independence Day by welcoming 17 Soldiers from nine different countries as U.S. citizens.
In front of hundreds of well wishers, they raised their hands to take the oath of allegiance to the United States of America.
"I was ready! It was a long time waiting ... to become a citizen of the United States," said Pvt. 1st Class Kimberly Miranda, born and raised in the Central American country of Belize. "I wanted to be an American citizen because then people would look at me differently, they would see me as an equal and not as an outsider."
Miranda said she wanted to improve herself and give something back.
"The Army has done so much for me and this was a good way to serve and get my citizenship," she said.
For 30 minutes, a calm came over the carnival-like atmosphere as hundreds of festival-goers paused to watch the ceremony to formally naturalize each of the Soldiers.
Robert Looney, the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service District director, Bangkok, traveled to Seoul to administer the oath of allegiance.
"This day is a day really like no other," he said. "The U.S. is one of the most generous countries for allowing people to come and become part of the American process. You are part of the process just as we are. Your story is our story."
Brig. Gen. Al Aycock, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command-Korea, was the keynote speaker.
"Today is an important day in your life," Aycock told the Soldiers. "Each of you has worked hard on your way to make this dream of U.S. citizenship come true. Today you will become a stakeholder, a shareholder and an owner of (the U.S.'s legacy) and the future it represents to form a more perfect union, of the people, by the people and for the people."
After the ceremony, friends, families, co-workers and well-wishers crowded around the new citizens to congratulate them. Among them were Miranda's friends and co-workers.
"From the day I filled out the paperwork to the day I raised my hand was almost a year," Miranda said. "It really wasn't a long wait when I look back. It only took about a year and it made the Fourth of July very special. I am proud of my service in the Army and I am proud to become a citizen."
View all of the photos from today's ceremony. In all, 17 Soldiers stationed at USAG-Yongsan took the oath:
Sgt. Mark Agnes, Philippines
Pfc. Eliza Balisacan, Philippines
Spc. Claudia Cabero, Bolivia
Pfc. Yong Sop Cha, Korea
Spc. Kounadia Cissoko, Mali
Pfc. Maria Victoria Glenn, Philippines
Spc. Sayyed Hussain, Pakistan
Spc. Jiawei Jain, China
Spc. Jialong Li, China
Pvt. Jose Manansala, Philippines
Pfc. Kimberly Miranda, Belize
Pfc. Oneal Payumo, Philippines
Pfc. Jonathan Abella Poblete, Philippines
Sgt. Marion Reyes, Honduras
Spc. Dong Shin, Korea
Spc. Antoine Stuppard, Haiti
Spc. Marlon Villegas, Philippines