BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (Combined Joint Task Force-82, May 30, 2007) - It was a proud day for 19 active-duty servicemen and women who took the Oath of Allegiance making them among the newest U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony here Memorial Day.

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, William Wood, delivered the keynote address. With the help of Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez, commanding general, 82nd Airborne Division and Combined Joint Task Force-82, Ambassador Wood presented the Soldiers with their certificates of citizenship.

Pamela Hutchings, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer-in-charge, led the Soldiers in the Oath of Allegiance formally making them U.S. citizens.
"Today is a day for celebration as we welcome our brothers and sisters in arms as they take their places as members of the greatest democracy on the earth," said Maj. Gen. Rodriguez. "There is no better way for us to recognize the sacrifices they are making here than to grant them the right to call themselves Americans. They join over 20,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who, since 2002, have taken the oath of citizenship during the war on terror and become a citizen of the nation they have risked their lives to defend.

"We want to say to every one of you; we are proud of the job you are doing here. We are proud that you chose to become a citizen of the United States of America. We are proud to be your leaders," concluded Maj. Gen. Rodriguez.

Ambassador Wood shared his thoughts on the induction of the newest American citizens, "It is a pleasure to participate in today's ceremony. I can't think of any place I would rather be than here on Memorial Day to assist with this naturalization ceremony for our servicemembers. The United States of America has no greater strength than our newest citizens, who by their service and by their oath have joined forever our country and our effort and our values.

"The United States is a country where people strive daily to turn their hopes into reality and they are afforded opportunities to do so. Hope for a better future, hope for improving economic, religious and political freedom, is what first drew immigrants to the shores of America; and hope is what continues to draw thousands of immigrants to the United States each year," he continued. "Today, hope shines bright because of you and your exceptional commitment to serve our country and the people of Afghanistan, as we work to advance our common goals of security, development and democracy. I am proud and honored to say 'thank you for your service to our country and my fellow Americans.'"

The new citizens are from American Samoa, Antigua, Barbuda, Argentina, Belize, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Philippines, Sierra Leone, St. Vincent-Grenadines and Taiwan.

After emigrating from the Philippines to the United States at the age of 15, 21-year-old Escondio, Calif., resident, Spc. Ma Estrellita Dasmarinas, a human resource specialist, said she was thrilled to receive her citizenship.

"I am very excited about getting my citizenship," said Spc. Dasmarinas. "I can't wait to call home and tell them the big news."

Staff Sgt. Hughan Drew, an automated logistical specialist from Company A, 782nd Brigade Support Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, and his wife, Spc. Kemisha Woods, an automated supply specialist from Company G, 2nd Battalion, 321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 82nd Abn. Div., had the opportunity to share in the naturalization ceremony together.

"We put our paperwork together, but we never planned on [being naturalized] together, but it happened like that, and we're happy it worked out that way," said Spc. Woods. "We are both very excited."

"We're proud to be Americans," said the couple in unison. Aca,!A..The couple said they will complete their tour in Afghanistan early next year and hope to continue their education and serving their country.

President Bush signed the National Defense Authorization Act in 2003. The Act amends portions of the Immigration and Nationality Act allowing for overseas military naturalization ceremonies. Before Oct. 1, 2004, servicemembers could only be naturalized while physically within the United States. Since the initiation of the program in 2004, more than 3,600 Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines have been naturalized during ceremonies overseas.