With fellow basic trainees and battalion Soldiers looking on, five Soldiers with the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, became U.S. citizens May 12 during a naturalization ceremony on Sand Hill.

The Soldiers included PVT Jean Samuel Blain and PFC Kenny Pierre, from Haiti; PFC Jerson Anzola, from Colombia; PFC Qasim Mehdi, from Pakistan and PV2 Oscar Simon, from Mexico.

"I've been waiting for this for a long time," said 31-year-old Simon, who lived in California for 17 years. "I'm finally a U.S. citizen."

Mehdi, 23, said he was most excited about bringing his mother and some of his nine brothers and sisters to live here as well.

"I came here for education and to support them," he said. Mehdi moved to the country in 2007 and recently graduated from the University of Central Missouri with a bachelor's degree in automotive technology. "They are very proud of me."

LTC Thomas Sheehan, 2/19 battalion commander, said he has the utmost respect for the new Soldiers and hopes to host more ceremonies at the battalion level in the future.

"Most of us are citizens by birth, but (they) made a choice to become an American," he said. "They took the oath to defend this nation before they were even citizens, and that's a tremendous sacrifice."
Bertha Johnson, Atlanta field office section chief for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the Soldiers passed a civics test and proved they could read, write and speak basic English.

After pledging their allegiance to the American flag for the first time as citizens, Sheehan presented the Soldiers with a unit coin and congratulated them on their accomplishments.

The qualifications for obtaining citizenship through the military differ from the traditional process, Johnson said. Some entered under the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program, which doesn't require immigrants to already have lawful permanent residency. The others weren't subjected to the three- to five-year wait time typically required of green cardholders. The nearly $600 application fee was also waived and they now have all the privileges and rights of any other American citizen.

"This puts them in a position to enhance their career in the military and obtain a security clearance," Johnson said. "By volunteering to defend this country, they have brought great honor on themselves. This is such a meaningful day for these Soldiers."

Sheehan charged the Soldiers to recognize the responsibilities that come with citizenship.

"Vote in every election that you can," he said. "When asked to do so, eagerly perform your duty as a member of a jury. Practice your religion and respect the right of others to do the same."

Just two days away from basic training graduation, each Soldier acknowledged the charge and accepted their certificates of citizenship. For those like 25-year-old Pierre, becoming a U.S. citizen was a lifelong dream come true.

"This military represents all that is great in the world like democracy and freedom," he said. "This is the greatest country in the world with the greatest military, and this is my opportunity to serve it."