By Christina Douglas, 9th Mission Support Command Public AffairsSeptember 3, 2010
UTULEI, American Samoa (Sept. 3, 2010) - Forty-two members of the U.S. Army Reserve's 9th Mission Support Command were naturalized at the Governor H. Rex Lee auditorium in the first Military Naturalization Ceremony ever held in American Samoa.
Fellow Soldiers, family members, friends and community leaders attended the ceremony to honor and congratulate their loved ones.
"This is a great day for American Samoa," said American Samoa Governor Togiola Tulafono in his address to the Soldiers. "This is the first time in my memory that any Samoan has ever been sworn in as a U.S. citizen on our soil and that in itself makes history."
Following the governor, Brig. Gen. Michele G. Compton, commanding general, 9th Mission Support Command, commended the Soldiers for their efforts.
"You represent the very best of all that our nation stands for: freedom, opportunity, equality and service," said Compton. "I am honored to call you my comrades in arms and today it is my privilege to call you my fellow citizens. "
The naturalization process was a combined effort between the U.S. Army Reserve's 9th MSC and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Maj. John Adams, the former Army Reserve Center installation commander here, initiated the process in October of 2009 after finding out that some of his Soldiers, who had previously deployed to Iraq, had been unsuccessful in completing the naturalization process while in theater, according to Col. Michael Phipps, the Theater Support Group commander.
Adams also explained that the process would have required the Soldiers to travel at their own expense to Hawaii to complete the paperwork and the final interview process, said Phipps.
Phipps gave the go-ahead to Maj. Adams to contact the USCIS in Honolulu, and the rest is history. Since that point, USCIS graciously assisted the TSG with processing the applications.
District 26 Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, David G. Gulick, and two of his USCIS team members traveled to American Samoa to complete the final interviews for the Soldiers. Gulick also administered the oath of allegiance to the Soldiers at the ceremony making their dreams of citizenship become a reality.
In all, each of the Soldiers saved approximately $2,000 by not having to pay out of pocket to fly to Honolulu for the final interviews and by not having to pay any of the application fees.
Under special provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, qualified members of the U.S. Armed Forces are exempt from certain naturalization requirements to include residency and physical presence in the United States. Service members who have served honorably on active duty or as a member of the Army Reserve on or after Sept. 11, 2001 are eligible to file for immediate citizenship under the special wartime provisions in Section 329 of the INA.
Additionally, the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2004 amended portions of the INA to allow for overseas military naturalization ceremonies.
U.S. citizenship provides Soldiers with additional opportunities within the Army and throughout the United States. Some of the Army's jobs, also known as Military Occupational Specialties (MOS), require Soldiers to have their citizenship.
For the Soldiers, each of them had their own reasons for wanting to become citizens.
"Having your citizenship makes it much easier to get jobs in the U.S.," said Pfc. Auvae Naomi, a supply specialist with the Forward Support Company, 411th Engineer Battalion. Naomi, a mother of two, said that getting her citizenship is important because she wants to provide more opportunities for her children.
For Staff Sgt. Rachael Manning, a supply sergeant in the TSG's American Samoa Detachment, becoming a citizen will open new doors of opportunity for her career in the military.
Manning is a college graduate and is now eligible to apply to become an officer in the military.
"It was a good feeling," said Manning. "Now I can finally say I'm a U.S. citizen. I'm grateful to the TSG and USCIS for their efforts and for bringing this ceremony to my hometown so my family could be here to see me when it happened."