CAMP VICTORY, Iraq (Army News Service, July 6, 2010) -- A total of 156 servicemembers in Iraq became U.S. citizens July 4 as Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, attended a naturalization ceremony in Al Faw Palace on Camp Victory.

On Independence Day, the marble walls of Al Faw palace were draped in red, white and blue and its rotundas shook with the roar of "The Star Spangled Banner" as American troops held the special Fourth of July ceremony.

"The one lesson every country has to what you symbolize here today," said Biden, "and that is that there is strength in diversity. Our Iraqi brethren are learning that right now as they held a free election."

Biden also thanked the servicemembers for choosing America as their new home and credited them with contributing to the success of the Iraq war.

"We owe all of you. And we owe your families," said Biden.

The servicemembers became citizens through the naturalization process, which requires applicants to show good moral character and live in the U.S. for five years.

Three of the participants were Soldiers from the 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, which is deployed to Camp Taji.

"To finally become a U.S. citizen - in a combat zone, in Saddam's palace, on the Fourth of July - I think it's wonderful, a great experience, something you dream of," said Pfc. Jose Murcia, a 30-year-old native of El Salvador.

Murcia came to the United States in 2001 on a student visa, studying in California. He joined the Army in 2009 and like the two other Soldiers in his unit, applied for citizenship through an Army Community Services (ACS) program on Fort Riley, Kan. Citizenship is not a requirement to join the military, but non-citizens cannot get security clearances or become commissioned officers.

During the ceremony, Murcia and the other servicemembers were led in the oath of citizenship by an official from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office. This is the 17th such ceremony in Iraq coordinated by the USCIS and the military.
The ceremony ended with a message from President Barack Obama, which was broadcast to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan:

"We need only to draw upon the perseverance of those before us," said Obama, "our founders who declared and fought for their ideals; our ancestors who emigrated here and struggled to build a better future for their children."

(Spc. Roland Hale is a PAO with the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Inf. Div.)