FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — In English, the Latin phrase, “E pluribus unum” roughly translates as, “out of many, one.” That phrase is found — among other places — on the seal of the United States of America, and it has come to partly symbolize the role immigration has historically played in strengthening the country.
For 13 service members and dependents here — from as far away as China and Turkey — the dream of becoming a U.S. citizen came true on Wednesday, when Fort Leonard Wood hosted a naturalization ceremony at the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate courtroom, in conjunction with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the U.S. Courts, Western District of Missouri.
During the ceremony, Fort Leonard Wood’s newest U.S. citizens — from 11 different countries — took the Oath of Allegiance, then proudly displayed their certificates of naturalization for their coworkers, friends and family in attendance. The naturalized citizens include Catalina Blakely, Adams Sahly Lebaine Diabate, Martha Diaz, Diego Gutierrez, Dwayne Halstead, Jessica Hernandez Vazquez, Presnel Joseph, Josue Lagos Diaz, Grace Parkinson, Mary Quibal, Ryan Taifane, Hao Wang, and Kadir Yigitbas.
Providing remarks at the ceremony were Col. Anthony Pollio, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Leonard Wood commander, and Willie J. Epps Jr., U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Missouri, based out of Jefferson City.
Pollio, whose mother was a naturalized U.S. citizen, thanked the organizers and attendees, and called the ceremony, “a very special occasion.”
“It’s being able to participate in ceremonies like this that makes my job worthwhile, and it’s one of the things that I enjoy most,” he said. “My mother was a naturalized citizen. It was one of the proudest moments of her life, and so it’s very special for me to be here today.”
Epps said one of the greatest privileges of being a federal judge is presiding over ceremonies like this — “ceremonies where new American citizens are produced.”
“This is all the more special, given that the new citizens today are serving on active duty, wearing a uniform and putting their lives on the line for this country,” he said. “That is a testament to your patriotism and to your honor. This nation thanks you sincerely for your service. I congratulate you and your families.”
Becoming a citizen has been an easier process for service members since 2002, when an executive order was signed that expedites the citizenship application process for active-duty service members serving on or after Sept. 11, 2001.
Navy Seaman Hao Wang, a student at the Center for Seabees and Facilities Engineering Detachment, called the U.S. citizenship process “very easy.” Wang, originally from China, said he began the paperwork in April, when he was attending recruit training at Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois.
“The Navy helped me process all the applications,” he said.
Before joining the Navy, Wang lived in the U.S. as a university student for six years — but he said he always wanted to serve his adopted homeland.
“I’m very proud to be in the Navy, and I’m proud to be a Seabee,” he said. “I really like America — that’s why I chose to be an American citizen. I feel better to live here. I feel my lifestyle — I like it better than when I was living in China.”
Spc. Mary Quibal, a patient administration specialist at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital, was born and raised in the Philippines. Her grandfather was a World War II veteran, and petitioned for her to come to the U.S.
She joined the Army in 2020, amidst the pandemic, and said COVID-19 did slow the citizenship process for her a bit. However, she’s now ready to continue her dream of becoming an Army officer — she holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
“It’s great,” she said, still holding her brand-new naturalization documents. “Now, I can move forward to what I wanted to do. All those barriers — I like crossing off barriers, so I can do more of what I want to do. Thank you, United States.”