STUTTGART, Germany - Twelve Soldiers from nine countries took the oath of allegiance and became citizens of the United States during a naturalization ceremony at the Stuttgart's Patch Community Club earlier this month.

This was the first time a military naturalization ceremony had been held in Stuttgart.
The new citizens are from the Philippines, Haiti, Korea, Cuba, Germany, Gambia, Guyana and the Dominican Republic. The Soldiers are assigned to units throughout Germany.

For Sgt. Herold France of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command Medical Transient Detachment in Landstuhl, this was the end of a long journey that began when he left Haiti.

"I've been waiting for three years to become naturalized," said France, a six-year Army veteran with two deployments to Afghanistan under his belt. "Deployments kept getting in the way. Finally, I got it today."

"It's like being reborn again - being born into a new family," said Spc. Remlee De la Cruz, 37, originally from the Philippines. A former police officer in his native country, De la Cruz arrived in the United States in December 2006, and three months later joined the Army as a smoke generator mechanic. "It's my first job in the U.S.," he said.

De la Cruz's family, wife Lilen and sons Coo Chee Coo, 9, and Cheeno Colette, 7, traveled with him from Ansbach to witness the ceremony. For his family, De la Cruz said he sees the possibilities as endless.

"Becoming a U.S. citizen means a whole new life of opportunity and challenge," he said.

"The importance of this naturalization ceremony is to bestow U.S. citizenship on the brave men and women serving in our United States military," said U.S. Consul General Jo Ellen Powell, who spoke at the ceremony. "U.S. citizenship is the greatest benefit that this country has to give, and we are honored to have the ability to give our service members this gift."

"When you become an American, it means that you understand what the Bill of Rights and the Constitution really says about all men being created equal," said Marine Maj. Gen. William Cato, European Command chief of staff, who also addressed the country's newest citizens. " ... It means you signed on for an idea that you would support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic and bear true faith and allegiance to the same. ... The thing that impresses me so much about each one of you men and ladies is that ... all of you have already demonstrated that you're willing to sacrifice for this idea."

The Frankfurt Consulate's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office naturalized 148 Soldiers in 2007. According to a USCIS fact sheet, the bureau has naturalized more than 33,750 members of the U.S. Armed Forces since September 2001.

The USCIS has created a streamlined process for military personnel serving on active-duty status or who have recently been discharged. The $595 naturalization fee is waived for military members. Physical presence and time of residency requirements are also waived, said Emiglio Martinez, the Frankfurt acting field office director.