VICTORY BASE COMPLEX, Iraq — The United States Forces — Iraq command staff held its 16th naturalization ceremony Feb. 15, welcoming 107 new U.S. citizens in Al-Faw Palace at Victory Base Complex, Iraq.
Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., the deputy commanding general for operations with USF-I and a Detroit native, presided over the ceremony and gave a coin to each Soldier.
In his speech, Jacoby said he was proud to go through this process with the candidates and told them they demonstrated their patriotism by serving in the U.S. military before they gained citizenship.
"I am tremendously proud of you for the contributions you have made," he said. "Congratulations on achieving a significant milestone."
Maj. Robert Baker, officer in charge of plans and policies with USF-I and a Cincinnati native, said coordinating the event was no easy task.
"It starts out eight to nine weeks prior, and I couldn't do it without the help of the professional [noncommissioned officers] that I have working with me," he said.
Baker said new citizens tell him their naturalization ceremony marks the best day of their life and he is proud to be a part of that.
"We had 107 Soldiers that we naturalized today, from 44 different countries," he said. "Today, we had 12 Iraqi citizens serving in the Army become U.S. citizens. I think it adds special meaning for all the Soldiers to do this in a combat zone."
Pfc. Edilma Martinez, a transportation logistics specialist with the 612th Movement Control Team, 49th Transportation Battalion, 15th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), was born in Guatamala and has lived in the U.S. since she was three years old.
"I thought this was a great opportunity for me," she said. "This means a lot to me. I never had the chance to vote in the last election and now I can."
Martinez, an Inglewood, Calif., native, said her family came to the United States with hope that she would become a U.S. citizen.
"So far, I have lived up to their expectations," she said. "I plan to be a sponsor for my mom now, so that she can become a citizen."
All of these Soldiers had a sponsor assigned to them as a mentor and to help them with their paperwork, interview and citizenship exam.
Staff Sgt. Stephanie Thomas, a supply NCO with the 612 MCT at Contingency Operating Base Adder, Iraq, and a 13th ESC sponsor, said she does exactly that for the Soldiers she sponsors.
"It's a lengthy process," she said. "We send the Soldier's paperwork to the battalion, then it goes to USF-I to get approved. From there it is approved or denied."
Thomas, a Bronx, N.Y., native, said she brings the Soldier to the interview and makes sure he or she understands the process.
"Pfc. Martinez was in my unit and I was nominated to sponsor her," she said. "Becoming a citizen is very important and having someone there for them helps them out a lot."
Spc. Ivan Granja, a fuel specialist with the 96th Sustainment Brigade, 13th ESC and a Brea, Calif., native, said he is the second person in his family to become a U.S. citizen. His father was the first.
"Once I get back home to the states, I plan on sponsoring my wife," he said.
Granja said he originally started the process to become a citizen when he was 13 and the military helped to expedite the process.
"After the interview, I found out in a few hours that I had been granted U.S. citizenship," he said. "It means a lot to me and a lot to my family, now I can do things that I could not do before becoming a citizen."