News: 'I'm officially an American'
Story by Capt. Michael Lovas
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — Spc. Yaroslav Sergei Dmytrochenko joined the Minnesota Army National Guard as a Ukrainian citizen, proudly serving as an American soldier. While deployed to Kuwait he was able to officially earn his U.S. citizenship and participate in a Naturalization Ceremony held at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait on March 24, 2012. He left Minnesota as a Ukrainian and will return home as an American.
Dmytrochenko started his military career in 2008 just like every other soldier, by taking an oath pledging to defend the Constitution of the United States. What makes his story different and unique is that when he took that oath, he was not an American citizen, he was a Ukrainian citizen.
Dmytrochenko was born in Kherson, Ukraine in 1989. In 2003 he and his family moved to St. Cloud, Minn. When he arrived in St. Cloud, he didn’t speak any English, but he attended school and worked hard to learn English by the end of his freshman year of high school. Right after graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Minnesota Army National Guard, as a tank mechanic, and was assigned to the Sauk Centre, Minn., based Charlie Company, 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 194th Armor of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry “Red Bulls” Division. “I was always thinking of joining. In Ukraine [all males] have to.”
Along his journey to citizenship he’s had great support and interest from his fellow soldiers, saying “A lot of people didn’t know a non-citizen can serve in the military. It’s been a good thing that I had an opportunity to serve.” In 2011 he deployed to Kuwait as a Ukrainian citizen wearing an American flag patch on his shoulder as an American soldier, in support of Operation New Dawn, the final phase of post-combat operations in Iraq.
While in Kuwait, he learned about an opportunity to submit his paperwork to finally earn his citizenship, something his mother and sister had already been able to complete. The long road to becoming an American citizen was finally completed on March 24, 2012. He stood with 14 other service members in the Camp Arifjan Chapel as Ambassador Matthew H. Tueller, U.S. ambassador to Kuwait and Maj. Gen. Gary Cheek, Deputy Commanding general-Kuwait of Third Army/U.S. Army Central observed the Oath of Naturalization. After the oath was completed, all 15 service members stood shoulder to shoulder and proudly recited the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time as American citizens before watching a special video greeting from President Barack Obama.
“It was nice that the Army could help me with this” he said. “It feels good to be an official citizen.” Now that he is an American citizen, he is able to get a U.S. passport so he can travel back to Ukraine to visit family he hasn’t seen in eight years. The ability to see family members again means a great deal to him and something he is anxiously looking forward to.
After he got back to Camp Virginia he was greeted by a lot of his fellow soldiers who were quick to greet him and congratulate him. Dmytrochenko said he shared his pride right away on Facebook, posting the message, “I’m officially an American” and got more responses than he’s ever had on Facebook. He said the outpouring of support, respect and excitement for him has been amazing. “It was nicer than I was expecting. It was an honor; it felt good to finally be over with.”