By Spc. Grant T. Okubo
4th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office, 10th Mountain Division
BAGHDAD — Americans sometimes take their citizenship for granted, but not one Patriot Brigade Soldier who became a U.S. citizen at Baghdad's Al-Faw palace on Camp Victory April 12.
Spc. Pastor Paul Durano, from Headquarters and Headquarter Battery, 5th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light), Multi-National Division – Baghdad, joined the ranks of his comrades and became an American citizen during a naturalization ceremony at the palace.
Durano was born and raised in Cubu City, Philippines. He lived as a farmer helping with the family business before he left for the United States in 2004 and settled down in New Jersey. While working in a hospital, he met his future wife who is a nurse. After three years in America, he decided to join the Army.
Durano is the first member of his family to become a U.S. citizen. He takes a lot of pride in being an American citizen but also feels a tremendous responsibility.
"It's a bigger responsibility, and it's good to be a part of America instead of just (being) a green-card holder," laughed Durano. He quoted ex-president John F. Kennedy, who told Americans to "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
Durano took that quote seriously when he joined the Army and strives to live up to those words. He didn't join the Army just to become an American. He could have gained citizenship through marriage because his wife is a U.S. citizen. He has four children living in the Philippines he plans to bring to the United States before the end of next year. As a U.S. citizen, he can also petition on behalf of other family members for U.S. citizenship.
The decision to leave his former country and home of 35 years was not an easy one. Durano found it hard to come to a new home with a different culture. Leaving behind family members and others who formed his personal support structure was extremely difficult, he added.
Durano had to go through an interview process the day before the palace ceremony. He was nervous because of the importance this interview would have on his life and future, he explained.
Durano began the naturalization process in June when he first arrived at Fort Polk, La. About six months ago he received a message he would be getting his citizenship in Iraq with other deployed Soldiers.
The naturalization ceremony was a great experience for Durano. One of the high points was having the ceremony in an Iraqi palace. He likened Al-Faw Palace to Iraq's equivalent of the White House, which only added to the excitement and joy of the event. Durano wasn't alone, as 259 Soldiers from 71 countries took the oath to become American citizens.
Durano's comrades and leaders are happy for him becoming the newest U.S. citizen in the unit. It was a great move and well deserved, said Capt. Jerald Ferguson, 5th Bn., 25th FA logistics officer."(It) seems like he knows more about the United States than I do," laughed Ferguson, a Rosepine, La. native.
Sgt. 1st Class Scottie Williams, personnel services non-commissioned officer in charge and Durano's NCOIC, accompanied him to the naturalization ceremony and helped Durano become an American citizen. Williams said he was ecstatic about his Soldier's accomplishment.
"It was a pretty great thing," said Williams. "There was one guy who was born in Baghdad and another from Sudan who went through a lot of turmoil in their lives. And to actually see the Soldiers go through that process and become U.S. citizens is pretty great to see."
The process of becoming a U.S. citizen was a long one for Durano, one he will not likely take for granted anytime soon.
"It took me 39 years to become an American citizen, but I'm very happy about it," expressed Durano, who lists becoming an American citizen as one of his best achievements.