DJIBOUTI, Djibouti – Fifteen New York Army National Soldiers serving with Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa became American citizens during a naturalization ceremony at the United States Embassy in Djibouti on March 10, 2023.
The Soldiers, all asigned to the New York Army National Guard’s 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, are in the midst of a nine month deployment to East Africa as part of Task Force Wolfhound where they are tasked with conducting security and crisis response operations.
Despite hailing from different countries all around the world, the 15 individuals who earned their citizenship are now all proud Soldiers, proud New Yorkers and proud Americans.
“I’m from Mali in west Africa,” said Pfc. Abdoul Fofana, an infantryman from Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment. “I came to the United States in 2017 to try and get a better life and help my family.”
Fofana who enlisted in 2021, said he always knew he was destined for service.
“I always wanted to help people,” Fofana said. “My dream was to be a police officer or a Soldier because it’s an honest way to help people.”
Despite serving with distinction in his role as an infantryman, Fofana said he still isn’t content and wants to serve others as a police officer.
“My dream is to be a police officer and you can’t do that without your citizenship,” Fofana said. “Getting naturalized means that I can now pursue my dream to become a police officer.”
Spc. Steven Alexander Delgado, a culinary specialist from Hotel Company, 427th Brigade Support Battalion, said he wanted citizenship so he can take care of his younger sister.
“I have a little sister back in Ecuador,” Delgado said. “My main plan is to get a house after this deployment and bring her to the United States like my mother did with me.”
Delgado, who emigrated from Ecuador at 12 years old, said he wants to give his little sister the upbringing he never had when he was younger.
“I want to let my sister have the things I couldn’t have in my childhood, education, good food, and a safe home where she won’t be afraid of going out and being mugged,” Delgado said.
“When I was 8 years old, some random person came up and mugged me with a handgun. That was a wakeup call for me,” Delgado said. “As soon as she was born and I was holding her, that was my main goal. To bring her over here to be safe.”
While Delgado wants to reunite with his family, Spc. Joan Manuel Veras Pichardo’s does not want to be separated from his.
Being a citizen means he can stay in the U.S., Pichardo said.
“It will mean a lot to me to get naturalized,” said Pichardo, a combat medic assigned to Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment. “I have two kids and I don’t want to be separated from them.”
Pichardo, a resident of Mount Vernon New York, recalled coming to the United States as a child when his family immigrated for the hope of a better life.
“I came to the U.S. in 2009 with my father,” said Pichardo. “We came here to find a new life and help our family back in the Dominican Republic.”
The Oath of Allegiance the Soldiers took was remotely administered by Mr. Juan Wood, a supervisory immigration services officer from the United States Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The ceremony was livestreamed via Zoom, allowing friends and family members back in the U.S. to virtually attend the event.
“It is a privilege to have you here because I believe you represent the best that America can show to other nations,” said Jonathan Pratt, the United States Ambassador to Djibouti.
“You are new U.S. citizens and public servants. I hope that your newly attained American citizenship brings you closer to your own definition of happiness,” Pratt said.
Pratt, who served as the ceremony’s distinguished speaker, reflected on his family’s own immigrant history.
“We are all immigrants to the United States. Every single one of us,” Pratt said. “My mother and her parents were from northern Italy and came to the east coast of the U.S. to be farmers and became American citizens.”
In attendance were senior leaders from CJTF-HOA and Camp Lemonnier, the U.S. military’s only enduring installation on the continent of Africa.
“I’m proud to call you fellow Soldiers and fellow Americans,” said Maj. Gen. Jami Shawley, the CJTF-HOA commander. “When I look across this room, I’m reminded of what makes an American. It’s not the color of your skin, your face, your gender, or your bloodline. It is your commitment to our constitution of fair play and liberty.”
“We believe in our values not because they are easy, but because they are right,” Shawley said.
“When I see you all, I want to celebrate your diversity. You took different routes to arrive in the United States. Some of you were brought to the United States by your parents when you were young, and some of you arrived as adults. Making that choice to leave behind everything you knew, looking for a better tomorrow,” Shawley said.
Though each new citizen took their oath of allegiance during the ceremony, their dedication to the United States began when they raised their right hand and took their oath of enlistment in the U.S. Army, he emphasized.
“As citizen Soldiers you defend not only those who agree with you, but also those who do not, Shawley said. “You defend everyone’s right to free speech, everyone’s right to assemble, everyone’s right to freely exercise their religion. Or no religion at all. Thank you for this opportunity to share in this moment.”
In addition to the Soldiers mentioned above, the following Soldiers became American citizens during the ceremony:
● Spc. Ralph Josuah Dela Cruz Alvarez, an infantryman assigned to Alpha Troop, 2nd Squadron, 101st Cavalry, from the Philippines.
● Spc. Rennie Barahona Enamorado, an infantryman assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, from Spain.
● Cpl. Joel Calderon, an infantryman assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, from Ecuador
● Spc. Adama Faye, an infantryman assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, from Senegal.
● Spc. Sudre Francis, an infantryman assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, from Jamaica.
● Pfc. Max Ralph Jr. Jean-Baptiste, an infantryman assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, from Haiti.
● Spc. Chernice Leon, an automated logistical specialist assigned to Hotel Company, 427th Brigade Support Battalion, from Saint Lucia.
● Spc. Adantoni Maduro Gomez, an infantryman assigned to 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment.
● Spc Stiven Orozco, an infantryman assigned to Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, from Colombia.
● Spc. David DeJesus Mendez, an infantryman assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, from the Dominican Republic.
● Spc. Stevenson Sterlin, an infantryman assigned to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, from Haiti.
● Spc. Antoine Tyndale, an infantryman assigned to Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry Regiment, from Jamaica.