CAMP VICTORY, Iraq -- One hundred fifty-six servicemembers from 56 different countries recited the Oath of Citizenship in the rotunda of Al Faw Palace and marked the Fourth of July as the day they became American citizens.
This, the 17th naturalization ceremony held in Iraq for servicemembers who have been serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, was also the second Independence Day naturalization ceremony at Al Faw Palace attended by Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
"What a sight you are today. What a powerful symbol you represent to those who yearn for freedom all across the world," Biden said to the of the servicemembers who came from countries ranging from Bolivia to Thailand.
"On this Fourth of July weekend, I'm reminded that you have carried the torch of our founding fathers, the one that they lit 234 years ago. You carried it around the world," he said.
Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commanding general, United States Forces-Iraq, pointed out that the servicemembers taking part in the ceremony have already been serving their adopted country.
"I'm extremely grateful to have such an outstanding group joining the ranks of our citizenry," he said. "You came to our country seeking freedom. And before you even enjoyed the rights of full citizenship, you held up your right hand and swore to support and defend that freedom, both at home and abroad. You volunteered to go into harm's way in defense of your new nation."
Although many of those in attendance have been waiting for years to become citizens, they were able to take advantage of a streamlined process for foreign-born members of the U.S. Armed Forces serving during a period of recognized hostilities.
Pfc. Jean David Jeannite, a Soldier with 1st Brigade Combat Team's Special Troops Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, couldn't contain his enthusiasm about the day for which he had been waiting 22 years.
"Today was the greatest day of my life," Jeannite said with a grin. "I'm finally, officially, part of the U.S., the greatest country in the world. I'm loving it. It's unbelievable to be part of this. The vice president, wow! This is the highlight of my life!"
Jeannite, from Bradenton, Fla., came to the U.S. from Port au Prince, Haiti, when he was nine years old.
Many of the new citizens also took the opportunity to register to vote and apply for their new passports immediately following the ceremony.
Spc. Stephen Mashol, with Headquarters Company, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, was preparing his passport application with the help of his first-line leader, Staff Sgt. Shawn Blackwell. Mashol immigrated to the U.S. as a refugee from the violence in Sudan in 2003 and was happy to have been a part of this ceremony.
"I was supposed to be in the last ceremony," Mashol said. "I wasn't happy for missing that ceremony, but now I'm more happy because this is a great day - the Fourth of July, and the vice president is here ... there is more happiness to this day, so that's making me proud to be American."