Story and photos by
Sgt. Giancarlo Casem
11th ACR Public Affairs

FORT IRWIN, Calif.-Soldiers from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment became the newest U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony on Fort Irwin, Calif., Dec. 9.

A total of 21 Soldiers stationed at the National Training Center on Fort Irwin took the Oath of Allegiance and became the nation's newest citizens. For some, the ceremony marked the end of the long journey to citizenship.

"It is something that I've been working for, I feel good that I finally accomplished it," Spc. Brenda Millan, Supply &Transportation Troop, Regimental Support Squadron. "I applied the first time in 2007, but things happened, and the next time I applied was three months ago."

Millan, a native of Mexico who now calls Huron, Calif., home, said she felt proud when she recited the oath. She also urged other Soldiers who have not yet started the naturalization process to do so.

"It's an awesome experience, it's an accomplishment," Millan said. "If you're already serving the country, it's just something you need to do."

To start the ceremony, the room was called to order and transformed to an impromptu courtroom. Irene Martin, the director of the San Bernardino (Calif.) Field Office for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, presented a motion on behalf of the 21 Soldiers to be naturalized. The judge overseeing the proceedings, the Honorable Oswald Parada, a magistrate judge for the U.S. Central District of California, then began to administer the Oath of Allegiance and Renunciation.

After administering the oath, Parada spoke briefly about what it meant to him and how important it was for him to perform it for Soldiers.

"It is a great honor to be here today to administer the oath of citizenship to you," Parada said. "The decision to become a citizen is not an easy one, but is truly one of the most important decisions you'll ever make in your life.

"You have a chosen a unique moment in our history to become citizens. The tragedy of September 11 was an attack on our institutions and our way of life. By becoming citizens, you are saying you believe in the principles the United States stands for: freedom, democracy and our commitment to the furtherance of those principles. If it wasn't for individuals like you, individuals who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, our nation would not be as strong as it is today."

For the newly-naturalized citizens, joining the military was not a means to become a citizen. For Spc. Julio Gonzalez, Regimental Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 11th ACR, volunteering for the Army was a natural choice for him to give back to his new home. Gonzalez, originally from Guatemela who now calls San Diego home, explained how he felt about Parada's words about unnaturalized Soldiers.

"It felt pretty good, but I had a few mixed emotions," Gonzalez said. "The only reason I volunteered is because I wanted to volunteer."
For the many Soldiers who had deployed but not yet naturalized, their citizenship felt like a just reward. Although for some, like Spc. Brent Kiley, Supply &Transportation Troop, Regimental Support Squadron, 11th ACR, fighting for his country was merely part of his duty as a Soldier.

"It's taken too long for this to happen, I'm glad that it's done. I tried before my deployment and things just fell through," said Kiley, originally from Baguio, Philippines, who now calls Los Angeles his home. For him deploying was just merely his duty and part of being a Soldier. "It's nothing really special, we were just doing our job; go there, stay alive and come back."

The 21 new citizens represented 14 different nationalities are an example of the diversity that makes up the face of the U.S.

"Today you join the ranks of over 15 million immigrants who have been naturalized in the last 100 years.
I feel a sense of familiarity and I feel very, very proud to stand before you today. I feel very proud to be part of this very meaningful event, a very special day for you," Martin said. "I feel a twinge of envy as well. Envy, because I truly believe that there are many of us who are citizens by chance who have much to learn from those of you, who are citizens by choice. I truly hope you will look upon this day with patriotism and great chose to pledge yourself to defend a country that had taken you in, that had not yet made you citizens."

The feeling of pride not only extended from the new citizen Soldiers, but also from Brig. Gen. Robert "Abe" Abrams, the NTC and Fort Irwin commanding general. Through his guidance and work with the post legal assistance office, they were able to streamline the naturalization process. He said this was the second naturalization ceremony he has attended and he feels proud to be a part of it.

"I'm not sure, to be honest with you, I have a word or a phrase that describes the feelings that I (have) here today," Abrams said.