Wounded Troops Become Citizens at Walter Reed Ceremony
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 14, 2007) - Better job and educational opportunities or family reasons may have led them from the lands of their birth to the United States, but serving in the armed forces made it possible for four servicemembers to become citizens yesterday.

Three Soldiers and a Marine took the oath of citizenship in a naturalization ceremony at Walter Reed Army Medical Center hosted by the Defense and Homeland Security departments.

"By your willingness to become citizens, you keep alive the dream of countless immigrant Soldiers who have come before you and will surely follow in your footsteps," Emilio Gonzalez, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director, said.

After he administered the oath, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the new citizens that immigrants have long been a benefit to the United States by boosting the economy, strengthening the culture, and blessing communities.

"You four who became citizens today have done something more," he said. "You have already done what you just swore to do."

Not only did the four sign up to defend their adopted home, they all were injured when serving the nation while deployed in Iraq.

"Even before you took the oath, you put duty, honor and country ahead of yourselves," Chertoff said. "You put your lives on the line for Americans you haven't even met. I thank you deeply for your sacrifice.

"For those who just became citizens," he continued, "we're honored you have joined us in carrying out this sacred mission. I am grateful for your service, moved by your sacrifice, inspired by your courage and humbled by your devotion to your adopted home."

Army Spcs. Angel Regalado-Contreras and Eduardo Garcia-Gonzalez and Pfc. Dwishnicka Randolph, and Marine Lance Cpl. Carlos Lopes became citizens in the fifth such ceremony hosted at Walter Reed since President Bush signed an executive order in 2002 expediting naturalization for servicemembers.

To date, USCIS has naturalized more than 26,000 servicemembers, with 1,006 of those becoming citizens while serving outside the United States. About 40,000 members of the armed forces are eligible to apply for naturalization.

Recent changes of the Immigration and Nationality Act have streamlined the naturalization process for military personnel serving on active duty or those who have recently been discharged. Since October 2004, servicemembers no longer have to pay a fee when filing for citizenship.

Randolph, who was born in Haiti, said that although her fellow Soldiers were very open to her serving in the Army without being a citizen, she now has an even greater sense of belonging since taking the oath.

"It feels great to be a citizen," Randolph said. "It's a blessing to be in the military. I think it's a great honor to wear the military uniform."

The 26-year-old Soldier said the first thing she was going to do as a citizen was head to the Department of Motor Vehicles and register to vote.

For Soldiers like Garcia-Gonzalez, being a citizen will make life better once out of the military. Originally from Mexico, he is awaiting medical discharge following a tour with the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq.

"I feel relieved," he said. "Now I have better job opportunities when I get out of the Army."