By Sgt. Lindsey Bradford, Multi-National Corps-Iraq Public Affairs OfficeNovember 11, 2009
BAGHDAD (Nov. 11, 2009) -- Surrounded by fellow servicemembers, 157 Soldiers and Marines representing 60 countries sat in the rotunda of Camp Victory's Al Faw Palace in Baghdad, today, for a naturalization ceremony.
Their wait would soon be over and their future would begin -- this time as United States citizens.
Known as Veterans Day, a holiday set aside to remember men and women who have served in the military, the day may now hold a new meaning to the men and women who took the oath of allegiance to the United States on this day.
"How fitting it is that so many, on this Veterans Day, will gain their American citizenship while serving in 'America's Corps,'" said Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commanding general of Multi-National Corps-Iraq. "I can think of no better time, no better place and no better way to honor the devoted service of these men and women."
Jacoby praised the men and women seated before him, noting that they had already contributed to the strength of the nation by serving in the United Stated armed forces. Their talents and abilities have continued to play a part in the mission here in Iraq, he said.
Jacoby said that foreign-born servicemembers were not a new concept to the military, as most of the regular Army in most of the 19th century was manned by a large number of foreign-born Soldiers eager to earn the status of being an American.
"This mixture of Soldiers from multiple nations, including those born in America, created an atmosphere of cooperation, acceptance and understanding that was necessary for mission accomplishment," Jacoby said.
Now, in the 21st century, that ethnically diverse mixture is still present within the ranks and continues to add to the success of the U.S. military, he said.
That success lay in the hands of those brave enough to have taken the military oath and live up to the commitments, Jacoby said. Now it was time for them to take the oath of citizenship to the United States of America.
Normally, a person wishing to gain citizenship in the U.S. must possess a green card for five years before becoming eligible, said Maj. Robert Baker, MNC-I human resources officer in charge of plans and policies. If a person joins the armed forces, that time is reduced to one year. However, if serving in combat, servicemembers are eligible for citizenship after serving one day in country.
Once eligible, the process takes about 90 days to complete. During those 90 days, the applicant will complete a test on reading, writing and speaking basic English; a test on basic knowledge of U.S. history and government, known as a "civics" test; and personal interviews with a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agent, Baker said.
Once complete, the oath of allegiance to the United States will be administered.
"In this oath, they will declare their loyalty to the United States and renounce their allegiance to any foreign state or ruler," Jacoby said. "Much like our forefathers, these Soldiers have come to America in search of freedom, opportunity and the hope for a prosperous future."
In some cases, the Soldiers and Marines came to America to escape the clutches of death in war-torn countries like Kosovo and Liberia. Others came to pursue educational opportunities, to escape poverty or to improve personal skills, Jacoby said.
"You represent opportunity, resilience and the freshness of the American experience and today we welcome you as brothers and sisters and as fellow citizens of our great nation," Jacoby said.
The 157 Soldiers and Marines in attendance joined nearly 1,300 other Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who have been naturalized while serving in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. To date, 15 naturalization ceremonies have been performed in Iraq.