By Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp, MND-B PAOMarch 4, 2009
VICTORY BASE COMPLEX, Iraq - A flood of memories and emotion rushed through the mind of 2nd Lt. Memorina Edwin Barnes, executive officer, Headquarters Service Company, Division Special Troops Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, Multi-National Division-Baghdad, as she reflected on the sacrifices it took to achieve her dream of becoming an American citizen.
Along with 250 other service members-Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines- who shared and sacrificed for that same dream, Barnes recited the Oath of U.S. Citizenship to become a naturalized citizen during the Multi-National Corps-Iraq Naturalization Ceremony held March 3 at al-Faw Palace here.
Amid a sea of service members who represented many different countries and cultures, Barnes, a native of Pohnpei, an island of the Federated States of Micronesia, received a U.S. flag and her certificate of citizenship at the ceremony.
"I was overwhelmed and felt a surge of pride," said Barnes of the ceremony. "When I was presented the flag, a million things were floating through my head, so many memories about growing up and getting to where I am today. I couldn't believe this moment was actually here."
"I was trying hard not to cry, and wished my family could have been here to see this," Barnes added. "I could finally say, 'I'm fighting for 'my' country."'
Despite the fact that her husband, also a Soldier stationed back at Fort Hood, Texas; her four-year-old son, Darren, and her two-year-old daughter Olivia could not take part in the ceremony, Barnes said they were there in spirit and that she leaned on support from her unit.
"Although my [husband and kids] are [in Killeen, Texas], I am surrounded by people here who I call family," said Barnes. "Everyone has been very supportive and almost my entire unit was there for the ceremony."
"I called my husband and he wished me the best. He's very proud and wishes he could have been here for the ceremony," she added.
The significance of getting her citizenship in Iraq was not lost on Barnes.
"I'm going to give 20 years of service to the U.S. Army and I would give my life so my kids can be citizens of a free country," Barnes said. "This reinforces the reasons I'm here in Iraq in the first place."
"I'm doing my part for our country by being here, but it's not just me, I'm just a small part of this," she added. "Every Soldier who received their citizenship today took steps long before this to get their citizenship and we all served our nation even before we could call it home."
Many years prior to her service in the Army, the seeds of Barnes seeking the American dream were first planted during her difficult early years as a child on Pohnpei.
"Life in Micronesia was hard. We went to school but not every day and we always wore hand-me-down clothes, but half the time we didn't have shoes," said Barnes. "We always had to share and food came in very small portions."
"There was no running water, we bathed by a creek," she added. "We had to live off the land-growing vegetables-and there was no money most of the time."
Along with this, Barnes walked three miles to school over rough terrain where there were no paved roads.
With all the hardships of living on the island, Barnes said her family saw something special in the U.S. and wanted to be part of it.
"My grandfather was always a great admirer of the U.S. and always spoke very highly of it," Barnes said. "He'd be really proud of me if he were still alive."
"Even before I was a U.S. citizen, every time I heard the U.S. national anthem, it would always give me a chill up my spine and I knew I wanted to be a part of this nation," she added.
When she was 13, Barnes and her family left Pohnpei in 1988 for Kaneohe, Hawaii, where she spent her teenage years and first tasted the American dream-a dream that promised more freedom and better opportunities for her family.
Through the years as an immigrant in Hawaii, Barnes said she overcame prejudice and unfair, false and negative stereotypes.
"A lot of people don't understand that it's not money [immigrants] are seeking but rather the opportunity to better themselves," said Barnes. "The majority of immigrants [who come to the U.S.] are hard-working people, willing to make sacrifices for the freedoms they don't have in their own country."
Barnes, who has 15 years of military service under her belt, said she worked hard throughout high school, pursuing the American dream, and then entered the Army at the age of 19 as a private.
"I worked my way up [through the ranks], and I did a lot of the jobs no one else wanted to do," said Barnes. "I didn't have a plush job and just had to keep soldiering on."
By the time Barnes reached 13 years of service in the Army, she achieved the rank of sergeant first class, completed a bachelor's degree and turned in a packet to become an officer.
In 2007, Barnes received her commission as a second lieutenant in the Army's chemical branch.
According to Lt. Col. Matthew Karres, commanding officer, DSTB, 1st Cav. Div., Barnes exudes the spirit of an American patriot and is someone who definitely deserves U.S. citizenship, especially when looking at all her hard work and sacrifices she made over the years.
"As a second generation American who is a grandson of immigrants, I think this is awesome," said Karres, reflecting on Barnes receiving her citizenship. "We're all really proud of her. She's also getting promoted this month, so March is a big month for her."
Along with having pride in being an American citizen, Barnes will also never forget her Pohnpeian culture and will pass that down to her children.
With both her children being native-born U.S. citizens, she will also remind them of the sacrifices immigrants and others have made for them to have their freedom-a freedom that many people living in other countries around the world might never experience.
"I'll definitely tell them to never take the country they live in for granted and to be proud of and loyal to the [United States]."