Servicemembers in Iraq become U.S. citizens: 259 raise their hands in largest U.S. overseas naturalization ceremony

XVIII Airborne Corps Public Affairs
Story by Staff Sgt. Jeremy D. Crisp

Date: 04.12.2008
Posted: 04.12.2008 11:03
News ID: 18376
Service members in Iraq Become U.S. Citizens

By Staff Sgt. Jeremy Crisp<br /> 18th Airborne Corps<br /> <br /> CAMP VICTORY, Iraq – The largest United States naturalization ceremony to be held overseas took place on April 12 at the Al Faw palace.<br /> <br /> Two-hundred fifty nine servicemembers representing 71 countries held up their right hands and pledged their allegiance to the country which they already defend – thus becoming America's newest citizens. <br /> <br /> "I am deeply honored to be here with you today," said the ceremony's presiding officer, Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander, Multi-National Corps – Iraq. <br /> <br /> "Our nation's unique quality is that it weaves the world's cultures into a great American tapestry, and our military benefits from their strengths," Austin continued. "Thank you all for sacrificing so much for the United States and for the Iraqi people."<br /> <br /> Servicemembers from across the Iraq theater of operations gathered at the palace to take part in the ceremony, representing the Army, Navy and Marines.<br /> <br /> The age group of the new Americans spans decades, with the youngest naturalized citizen being 19, the oldest 47.<br /> <br /> For a pair of servicemembers from the Fort Bragg, N.C., based 82nd Airborne Division, it was all smiles and relief that the process to become U.S. citizens came to fruition.<br /> <br /> "This is just amazing," said England-born Spc. Matthew J. McCallum, a personal security detail Soldier with the 82nd's 1st Brigade Combat Team. "There are so many more doors open for me now."<br /> <br /> "My family doesn't even know that I did this," said Spc. Jose L. Mandario with 3rd Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 1st BCT, 82nd Abn. Div. <br /> <br /> Mandario's family originally emigrated from the Philippines and now resides in Long Beach, Calif. He plans to surprise them tonight with an email of his new citizenship certificate. <br /> <br /> "They will be very happy," he said. <br /> <br /> On hand to lead the servicemembers in the United States Oath of Allegiance for Naturalized Citizens was John Lafferty, director, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services – Rome.<br /> <br /> The servicemembers raised their right hands – following Lafferty's lead – and recited the oath that bears some exact verbiage in which all said upon joining the military:<br /> <br /> "... I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same ..."<br /> <br /> Then rounds of applause erupted from all three levels of the palace as America's newest citizens succumbed to smiles, laughter and tears. <br /> <br /> Each servicemember was given a certificate of citizenship by Austin, and an American flag from Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph R. Allen, MNC-I's command sergeant major. <br /> <br /> One Soldier in attendance succumbed to her overwhelming experience and was at a loss of words for how she felt. <br /> <br /> "This is all so overwhelming ..." said Pfc. Zully L. Schaeffer with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 20th Engineer Brigade, Fort Bragg. <br /> <br /> Schaeffer's family is originally from Peru and they now reside in Allentown, Penn. She could only come up with one word for how she felt about becoming a U.S. Citizen: "Happy."