By Wallace McBrideApril 24, 2014
FORT JACKSON, S.C. (April 24, 2013) -- Dozens of men and women became United States citizens last week, just as they were becoming Soldiers.
Fort Jackson routinely conducts a naturalization service for new Soldiers on Family Day each week, in front of an audience of friends and family at Hilton Field. During last week's event, congressional staffers and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Southeast Regional Leadership visited the post to observe the naturalization ceremony.
"This is a significant event, not only because (these Soldiers) earned the right to join us as citizens, but (because) they're taking an oath to swear allegiance to this country during a time of war," said Lt. Col. Eric Flesch, 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment commander. "They take this oath in the presence of their new brothers and sisters in arms, and a thousand family members joining us today."
USCIS opened a centralized office on post in 2011 to help service members and their families become U.S. citizens. Previously, Soldiers had to rely on offices scattered across the country to complete the process, followed by a naturalization ceremony in Charleston. Today, the entire process is centralized at Fort Jackson.
Congressional staffers and USCIS representatives began their daylong visit with the naturalization ceremony, before reviewing the various components of the centralized USCIS program located at Fort Jackson. Joseph Kernan, deputy director of USCIS District 8, administered the oath of allegiance to the new Soldiers.
Afterward, the men and women who became citizens just as they were becoming Soldiers were visibly moved by the morning's events. For most of them, it was the end result of many years of hard work.
"This is a new start, a new beginning," said Pvt. Haejoo Choi, originally from South Korea, just moments after gaining her American citizenship at Hilton Field last week.
Pvt. Miguel Camberos, originally from Mexico, said it was not only a new beginning for him, but "a new everything."
"It took a long time to get here," he said. "Let's see what life brings."
Spc. Wei Cui, who was born in China, said the day was both special and "ordinary." He was excited about becoming a United States citizen, but said he was ready to get to work as a Soldier.
"I need to continue my service in the military and do my duty in a military manner," he said.