By U.S. Army Master Sgt. Kap Kim, Combined Joint Task Force-10 Public AffairsMarch 26, 2014
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (March 26, 2014) -- Perhaps for the last time during major combat operations, 11 deployed servicemembers from the U.S. Army and Marines, from nearly all points of Afghanistan, took the oath of citizenship at a Naturalization Ceremony, March 26, 2014, at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.
P. Michael McKinley, the deputy U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Karen Decker, Regional Command-East's senior civilian representative, and Command Sgt. Maj. Ray Lewis, Combined Joint Task Force-10 and 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) senior-enlisted leader, along with many others in the audience, were on hand to congratulate the newest U.S. citizens.
"Today's ceremony, here in Bagram, Afghanistan, is uniquely inspiring and appropriate," said McKinley. "New York's Ellis Island is a part of America's history. Yet here in Afghanistan, you are making America's history, serving alongside your fellow Americans to defend our nation and assist the Afghan people in defending and rebuilding their country. Your children and grandchildren will open a textbook one day to learn how you contributed to America's freedom and security, as well as to that of Afghanistan, a country that is rebuilding after more than 30 years of conflict."
Most of the service members travelled to the United States with their families when they were very young and came from countries such as Burma, Liberia, Philippines, Nigeria, Channel Islands, Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico.
U.S. Army Sgt. Auderald Pratt, a supply sergeant, is assigned to 705th Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Fort Polk, La., grew up in Monroe, N.C., and was born in Ghana, Africa. U.S. Army Spc. Gervert Sales, a cargo specialist with 23rd Ordnance Company, Grafenwoehr, Germany, grew up in Apple Valley, Minn., and was born in Philippines. U.S. Army Spc. Cesar Silva-Sierra, a cargo specialist assigned to the 51st Transportation Company, Grafenwoehr, Germany, grew up in Austell, Ga., and was born in Honduras. U.S. Army Spc. Khun Hein, G Company, 710th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, N.Y., grew up in Fort Wayne, Ind., and was born in Burma. U.S. Army Sgt. Jennifer Santos-Bryant, an automated logistical specialist assigned to 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, N.Y., grew up in Los Angeles, and is from Mexico. U.S. Army Pfc. David Aguilar-Garcia, a horizontal construction engineer assigned to the 124th Engineer Company, Saluda, S.C., grew up in Lexington, S.C., and was born in Mexico. U.S. Army Spc. Victor Sobukunola, a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear specialist assigned to 2nd Cavalry Regiment, Vilseck, Germany, grew up in Newark, N.J., and was born in Nigeria, Africa. U.S. Army Spc. Salome Denoon, a motor transport operator assigned to 1229th Transportation Company, Cade Amory, Baltimore, grew up in Baltimore, and was born in Trinidad and Tobago. U.S. Army Spc. Jack Launit, a human resources specialist assigned to 2nd Battalion, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Vilseck, Germany, was born in the Marshall Island. U.S. Marine Sgt. Eduardo Gutierrez-Nava, stationed in Camp Pendleton, Calif., grew up in Oxnard, Calif., and was born in Mexico. U.S. Marine Sgt. John Lyle Jabalde, an electrician from Twentynine Palms, Calif., grew up in the Bronx, N.Y., and was born in the Philippines.
Hein, whose family immigrated to Fort Wayne, Ind., from Burma, in 2008, enlisted into the Army in 2012 to "serve and protect the United States" and to wear the uniform he's grown to be proud of. When he originally spoke thought about joining the Army, he said his family all had their reservations due to his lack of English.
"After I made it, they were happy and really proud of me," he said.
Hein added that becoming an American citizen is much more for him than a requirement, but that it is just the first step in achieving his version of the American Dream. Within his large family of three brothers and two sisters, he is only the second member of his family to attain his U.S. citizenship.
For Santos-Bryant, the ceremony became even more emotional when she noticed that her husband, Sgt. Jason Bryant, Company A, 710th BSB, 3rd BCT, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI), was in the audience toward the end of the ceremony. Although she was stoic throughout the ceremony, she could not hold back her tears when she saw him there.
"I just didn't expect him to be here," she said.
Jason surprised his wife by flying into Bagram Airfield from Forward Operating Base Shank with his commander and executive officer.
"It was important for me to be here today to support my wife and make sure she had some support here since we're in Afghanistan and not the United States," Jason said.
U.S. Customs and Immigration Services accepts naturalization applications from service members, veterans and their Families through their military service under Section 328 or 329 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The Act normally allows members of the service to honorable serve for at least a year. Yet, in the case of periods of hostilities, one may qualify to apply for citizenship with one day.
"There are a lot of things that we do, but this is the best thing that the USCIS does: naturalization overseas," said Pius Bannis, USCIS Bangkok District director. ?"It?'s a great feeling to come to a war zone. We feel great about those who are already serving and made that choice (to serve) before they became citizens."