BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - Service members celebrated their first Memorial Day as U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony on May 25 at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.
There were 106 service members including 94 Soldiers, 10 Marines and two Sailors from countries spanning the globe; from Mexico to Japan.
After a long naturalization process, emotions ran high as the service members' journey finally came to an end.
"It's very overwhelming, I'm in harm's way every day and have worked very hard to get to this point," said Spc. Rhett Cayobit, a Philippine native and an engineer with the 68th Combat Support Equipment Company, 62nd Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade. "I was very lucky that my unit supported me from day one."
Service members stood proud as they heard trumpets sound their new national anthem. After the last note fell and the service members took their seats, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, Commanding General for the Combined Joint Task Force-101 spoke about what being a U.S. citizen means. "This is a privilege, but one you've earned," said Schloesser.
Corinna Luna-Benavides, the field office director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for the Middle East spoke to the audience of approximately 325 people.
"Historically this is the largest group to gain their citizenship in Afghanistan, hopefully on Veterans Day in November we will have even more," said Luna-Benavides.
The naturalization process involves detailed applications, interviews, and reviews that normally takes nine months. For Sgt. Young Kim, a South Korea native and a transportation non-commissioned officer with the 154th Transportation Company from Fort Hood, Texas, it took eight years.
"It's so relieving because now I can bring my family over to the U.S.," said Kim. "I had to submit my packet four times but now that I have my citizenship. I plan on getting my security clearance and going to officer candidate school."
For the first time in Afghanistan, a taped video message from President Barack Obama was shown, congratulating the newest citizens of the U.S.
"This now officially your country," said Obama. "In America no dream is impossible. Together we can keep the beacon of America bright enough for all the world to see."