BAGHDAD (Army News Service, July 14, 2011) -- A dozen Soldiers with the 2nd “Dagger” Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, United States Division - Center officially became citizens of the nation they are resolutely serving on the 4th of July.

The ceremony included a speech to the newly-minted citizens by senior United States Forces - Iraq and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service leaders, as well as a taped speech by President Barack Obama, in which he praised the candidates for their service.

"From time to time we can look back and say, 'you know, that day was a special day that changed my life," said Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commanding general of U.S. Forces - Iraq. "I am certain that this will be one of those for each and every one of you."

Austin emphasized the significance of the date of the ceremony, falling as it did on America's Independence Day.

“It is fitting that these 45 men and women who have been serving in uniform in defense of the United States of America should gain their citizenship on the anniversary of our independence,” said Austin.

The new citizens assigned to the Dagger Brigade hail from seven countries: Japan, the Philippines, Mexico, Chile, Guyana, Spain, and Haiti.

"I came to the Seattle area, when I was 15 years old for an exchange student program and I really liked this country," said Pvt. Nana Chihara, a motor transport operator with Co. A, 299th Brigade Support Battalion and a Tokyo native. "My host father was serving in the Army at the time, so that’s how I got introduced to the U.S. military."

It has been a long road for many of the new citizens, who can now reap the benefits of citizenship, which for many includes a new pride in their work.

“It took a long while to get citizenship,” said Pfc. Rene Mckinnon, an infantryman with Headquarters and Headquarters Co. 1st Bn., 63rd Armor Regiment, 2nd AAB, 1st Inf. Div., USD-C and a Guyana native. “What it means to be an American to me is being able to be recognized for what I’m doing as I’m deployed.”

Immigrants have a long, proud history of service in the U.S. military. Even in the earliest days of the Revolutionary War, volunteers have played crucial roles in U.S. history. Prussian-born Friedrich von Steuben served as a major general in the Continental Army and Polish-Lithuanian Thaddeus Kosciuszko rose to brigadier general. Both became naturalized citizens.

"Ever since the United States declared its independence, immigrants have repeatedly served in its formations," he said. "Our country has always honored these heroes."

And for many at the ceremony, that honor came when they officially became U.S. citizens.

(Spc. Daniel Stoutamire serves with 2nd BCT, 1st Inf. Div. Public Affairs.)