Spc. Sven Kramer, a Bradley fighting vehicle mechanic with the 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Irwin, Calif., pledged himself to fight for the United States when he was not a U.S. citizen 26 months ago.

On Dec. 9, 2010, Spc. Kramer, who is a native of South Africa, took the oath of allegiance along with 20 other Soldiers at the National Training Center and Fort Irwin, as his wife, Jennifer Kramer, along with more than 100 other Soldiers and family members joined in the ceremony.

"It's going to take a couple of days to sink in," Spc. Kramer said. "It hasn't hit me yet."

As the director of the San Bernardino (Calif.) Field Office for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ms. Irene Martin addressed the 21 new U.S. citizens she said she was in the company of the nation's bravest citizens because they are already serving in the Armed Forces.

Normally, Ms. Martin said she lists the top five countries new citizens come from, but the ceremony at Fort Irwin was different as the 21 Soldiers represented 14 different countries truly reflecting America's diversity.

"Today your achievement is especially remarkable because you chose to pledge yourself to defend a country that had taken you in but not yet made you citizens," Ms. Martin said.

After administering the oath of citizenship to the Soldiers, magistrate judge for the United States Central District of California Judge Oswald Parada urged the new U.S. citizens to work diligently toward making the United States a better country.

"I urge you to participate in the political process by becoming informed about the issues and the candidates and by exercising your right to vote, for it is by your vote, you will make your voice be heard," Parada said.

Because the United States owes its distinct American character to the heritage of all its immigrants, Parada exhorted the group not to participate or tolerate discrimination in any form as he also offered advice for the parents in the group.

"Finally I urge you to teach your children to be responsible, respectful and productive citizens and teach them to take advantage of all the opportunities this nation has to offer as there's no limit to what they can do," Parada said.

The naturalization ceremony was the first of its kind at Fort Irwin as previously Soldiers and their family members had to travel to Los Angeles to be sworn in after travelling more than 90 miles to both Riverside, Calif. for their fingerprints and to San Bernardino for their interviews, Fort Irwin and National Training Center commanding general Brig. Gen. Robert "Abe" Abrams explained.

Thursday's ceremony was a collaborative effort between the Fort Irwin Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and the U.S. Federal District Court, Brig. Gen. Abrams said.

"It seems intuitive to us who are natural born that you should have the same rights and privileges that we do but until today you don't and you certainly earned it," he said. "You earned it through your commitment and dedication and your display of the values that we hold dear as Soldiers and Americans."

Many of the Soldiers in the group have already been deployed even though they were not yet U.S. citizens, he said.

"The fact that they work here and they do everything that they can and they put their full heart and soul behind our mission here, to train the force, is testament to their commitment to our nation and our Army," he said.

Taking a quote from Elbert Hubbard, Brig. Gen. Abrams said, "Men are rich only as they give. He who gives great service gets great rewards," adding that Hubbard could've easily been speaking about the Soldiers about to take the oath of citizenship.

"To all of them today is your great reward for all your efforts," Brig. Gen. Abrams said. "To our new citizens, thank you sincerely for your service and all that you do for what is about to be your country."