by Spc. Alexandra Hemmerly-Brown
LSA ANACONDA, Iraq – On the day after Veteran's Day, 44 servicemembers took their Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony here to become citizens of the country they are fighting for.
As in times of peace, many servicemembers in the American military enlist without being citizens of the country they serve.
"You came from Africa to Asia, from Europe to South America. But today in Iraq- a country struggling for its own freedom-you are all Americans," said Brig. Gen. Michael J. Terry, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) commanding general, at the ceremony.
Thanks to a law passed by Congress in 2004, naturalizations can now take place outside the United States. Previous to this law's passing, all naturalizations had to occur on the ground in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
"Over the past four years, more than 20,000 men and women in uniform have become citizens of the United States—the country they serve," Terry said.
Speakers at the ceremony included Terry, Command Sgt. Maj. Terry Fountain, 13th SC (E) sergeant major, and Dr. Emilio T. Gonzalez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
"Thousands of immigrant troops are making extraordinary sacrifices for America," Gonzalez said. "These men and women have pledged to defend with their lives liberties they have yet to secure for themselves. There is no more fitting way for a grateful nation to show its appreciation than through granting qualified military servicemembers U.S. citizenship as quickly as possible."
Gonzalez, a former Army colonel and non-U.S.-born citizen, said his position signifies America's uniqueness. He said the fact that a foreign-born citizen is now America's director of citizenship and immigration, is an illustration of the country's distinctive melting-pot quality.
"America is great because of its immigrant community, not in spite of it," Gonzalez said. "In America, people don't swear allegiance to a president or leader, they swear allegiance to a concept."
During Terry's speech, he quoted several of America's past leaders on what it means to be truly American.
"You can go to live in France, but you cannot become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Japan, but you cannot become Japanese. But anyone, from any corner of the world, can come to live in America and be an American," Terry said quoting former President Ronald Reagan.
"Becoming an American can have nothing to do with birth or ancestry" Terry said. "That is because America is an idea, not a race."
The servicemembers who were naturalized came to the ceremony from bases all over Iraq, as well as Afghanistan and Kuwait.
Spc. Simon Muturi, originally from Kenya, serves with the 164th Command Support Group, and was among the servicemembers obtaining citizenship. Muturi, who joined the Army in 2000, said he would continue to be a Kenyan at heart, but wanted to become an American.
"America is where it's at," Muturi said. "No other country can give you the opportunities like America can."
Naturalization candidates have to go through an interview and citizenship process before being eligible to become Americans. Unlike the process stateside, servicemembers can apply for and obtain citizenship without having to wait the minimum time civilians in the U.S. have to.
"For some of you, this day comes after a long and difficult journey," Terry said. "For all of you, this is a defining moment in your lives. America is now more than your home; America is your country."
This work, Servicemembers come together to become American citizens, by SFC Alexandra Hays, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.