News: Soldiers become American citizens while serving in Iraq
Story by Sgt. Shawn Miller
AL FAW PALACE, Iraq – In a time when immigration is a politically polarizing topic across the U.S., American soldiers, who once swore an oath to defend and protect the country they chose to serve, raised their right hands for an oath of a different nature, further validating their commitment to the nation.
Fifty-three soldiers, hailing from 32 countries across the globe, took the Oath of U.S. Citizenship, becoming fully legalized American citizens during a U.S. Forces-Iraq Naturalization Ceremony at Al-Faw Palace in Baghdad, Feb. 21.
Commanding General of U.S. Forces-Iraq Gen. Lloyd Austin III presided over the event, welcoming each of the soldiers into the ranks of their new nation.
“It was not our democratic institution that helped us achieve greatness; it was our immigrants and our national diversity that has made us great,” Austin said, explaining America is a country built by immigrants.
Since 2005, USF-I and U.S. CIS helped 3,375 U.S. military service members earn citizenship while serving in Iraq, Austin said.
U.S. Customs and Immigration Services officials administered the Oath of Citizenship to the newest American citizens, while Austin and his senior enlisted advisor, Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Allen, greeted the new citizens and presented each of the troopers with an American flag.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to join the military,” said Spc. Carita Allen, Company C, Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, and a native of Kingston, Jamaica.
Allen said that after she joined the military, she realized it was just as important for her to become a citizen of the country she swore to serve.
Spc. Kurt Brown, an infantryman assigned to Company A, “Wolfhounds” of 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, said the military is the best support group for gaining citizenship.
“It was very hard for me in the civilian world,” Brown said of the process. “After gaining my citizenship, it seems I am only limited by my determination and my faith. I’m very happy, all my trials and tribulations are paying off right now.”
While trying to gain citizenship as a civilian, the process took years of time and thousands of dollars, added Brown, a native of Ocho Rios, Jamaica.
Serving his third deployment since enlisting in the U.S. Army, Brown said that thanks to the help of his unit, the process to gain citizenship took only months to complete.
While many of the soldiers who participated in the ceremony served in the Army for years prior to receiving their citizenship, they still did not enjoy the same rights as their comrades. After reciting the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance for the first time as Americans, the new citizens took the opportunity to change that fact.
Following the ceremony, U.S. CIS officials offered soldiers the opportunity to take advantage of their status as new American citizens and fill out a voter registration form.
“I’m going to register to vote,” Allen said excitedly of her first task as a new citizen.
Brown said he is excited to return to his home in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, once his deployment is complete, joining his wife and five children—this time as a fellow American citizen.
“My family just feels whole now; it feels complete,” he said.
There are great benefits to being in the military, Brown added, noting the opportunity to become a citizen while deployed and being congratulated by senior U.S. Forces-Iraq leadership during the ceremony.
“Not too many people have the opportunity to actually get sworn in while in Iraq, fighting for the country you swore an oath to when you joined the military,” he remarked. “Now I’m swearing an oath to the country because I am a citizen now. I am one with the country now.”