CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo - Eight Multi-National Battle Group-East Soldiers, originally from countries as far flung as Iran, El Salvador and the Philippines, came together here March 25 to become citizens of the United States.

All the new citizens currently reside in California and are deployed to Kosovo as members of MNBG-E's 1-144th Maneuver Task Force.

Spc. Marisela Romero, Simi Valley, Calif., opened the ceremony with congratulations to the new citizens.

"I myself became a citizen when I was serving in Iraq," she said. "I can imagine what's going on in your minds right now, having the privilege, the opportunity and the honor to become a citizen. Many doors will open for you now as a citizen. Use the opportunity wisely."

Col. Robert Fode, Bismarck, N.D., deputy commander maneuver for MNBG-E, praised the new citizens for their hard work and achievement.

"I just can't fathom the idea of becoming a citizen while deployed and away from home and family; I can't fathom the sacrifices you made to be here and be a part of this," he said. "My hat's off to you and I want to be the first to say 'welcome to the home of the brave.'"

The new citizens are: Spc. Paul Acainaguilar, Van Nuys, Calif., originally of the Phillipines; Spc. Cristian Alfaro, Encino, Calif., originally of El Salvador; Spc. Roberto Coreasarteaga, Los Angeles, Calif., originally of El Salvador; Spc. Nestor Fajota, Reseda, Calif., originally of the Phillipines; Spc. Juan Medrano, Los Angeles, Calif., originally of El Salvador; Spc. Salvador Murilloflores, Los Angeles, Calif., originally of Mexico; Spc. Rostom Sahakian, Glendale, Calif., originally of Iran; and Spc. Manuel Zapata, North Hollywood, Calif., originally of Colombia.

Cpl. Gerald Thomas, Pasadena, Calif., served as the master-of-ceremonies for the event and Chaplain (Capt.) Timothy Meier, Los Altos, Calif., gave the invocation. Robert Daum, the Field Office Director for U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services in Rome, Italy, swore the Soldiers in as citizens.

The 1-144th MTF's commander, Lt. Col. David Brady, Modesto, Calif., urged the Soldiers to fulfill all the duties and responsibilities of citizenship.

"One of the things that makes America great is that it's a melting pot. We all come from different lands and it doesn't matter if you've been here 300 years or just a couple of generations like my family," he said. "I challenge each and every one of you to strive to be citizens of character, morals, honor and integrity. This is what the country needs."

Sahakian said becoming a U.S. citizen while in Kosovo was not something he was expecting.

"It's kind of odd, but it feels good," he said. "I'm with my brothers in arms."

Sahakian's parents were Armenians who were born in Iran. They immigrated to the U.S. with him, seeking religious freedom.

"When I got over here, I decided to join the service. I wanted to give back something, to serve my country," he said. "When they say it's the home of the free and the brave, it is really. If you lived in the country that I did, you would see the difference."

MNBG-E Command Sgt. Maj. Jack Cripe, Dickinson, N.D., told the new citizens that they were part of a very select group, non-citizens who had made the choice to serve in the U.S. military.

"You should be very honored and proud that you met the standard to don the uniform and be here today as a member of Multi-National Battle Group-East," he said. "And then you stepped forward and took the challenge to become a United States citizen, you went above and beyond."