By Army Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 4, 2009 - A flood of memories and emotion rushed through the mind of the executive officer for the 1st Cavalry Division's Headquarters Service Company, Division Special Troops Battalion, as she reflected on the sacrifices it took to achieve her dream of becoming an American citizen. Along with 250 other servicemembers -- soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines -- Army 2nd Lt. Memorina Edwin Barnes recited the Oath of U.S. Citizenship to become a naturalized citizen during a Multinational Corps Iraq naturalization ceremony yesterday at al-Faw Palace here.
Amid a sea of servicemembers who represented many different countries and cultures, Barnes -- a native of Pohnpei, an island of the Federated States of Micronesia -- received a U.S. flag and her certificate of citizenship at the ceremony.
"I was overwhelmed and felt a surge of pride," the lieutenant said. "When I was presented the flag, a million things were floating through my head -- so many memories about growing up and getting to where I am today. I couldn't believe this moment was actually here.
"I was trying hard not to cry, and wished my family could have been here to see this," she continued. "I could finally say, 'I'm fighting for MY country.'"
Though her husband -- a soldier stationed back at Fort Hood, Texas -- and her 4-year-old son, Darren, and 2-year-old daughter, Olivia, could not take part in the ceremony, Barnes said they were there in spirit and that she leaned on support from her unit.
"I am surrounded by people here who I call family," she said. "Everyone has been very supportive, and almost my entire unit was there for the ceremony."
Her husband was able to congratulate her over the phone. "He's very proud and wishes he could have been here for the ceremony," Barnes said.
The significance of getting her citizenship in Iraq is not lost on Barnes.
"I'm going to give 20 years of service to the U.S. Army, and I would give my life so my kids can be citizens of a free country," she said. "This reinforces the reasons I'm here in Iraq in the first place."
Still, she said, she realizes she was only a small part of the ceremony. "Every soldier who received their citizenship today took steps long before this to get their citizenship, and we all served our nation even before we could call it home."
Many years prior to her service in the Army, the seeds of Barnes seeking the American dream were planted during her difficult early years as a child on Pohnpei.
"Life in Micronesia was hard. We went to school, but not every day, and we always wore hand-me-down clothes, but half the time we didn't have shoes," Barnes said. "We always had to share, and food came in very small portions."
With no running water, her family bathed in a creek, she added. "We had to live off the land, growing vegetables, and there was no money most of the time," she said. Along with this, Barnes walked three miles to school over rough terrain where there were no paved roads.
With all the hardships of living on the island, Barnes said, her family saw something special in the United States, and wanted to be part of it.
"My grandfather was always a great admirer of the U.S., and always spoke very highly of it," Barnes said. "He'd be really proud of me if he were still alive."
Even before she was a U.S. citizen, Barnes said, the U.S. national anthem always sent a chill up her spine.
In 1988, when she was 13, Barnes and her family left Pohnpei for Kaneohe, Hawaii, where she spent her teenage years and first tasted the American dream -- a dream that promised more freedom and better opportunities for her family. Through the years as an immigrant in Hawaii, Barnes said, she overcame prejudice and unfair, false and negative stereotypes.
"A lot of people don't understand that it's not money [immigrants] are seeking, but rather the opportunity to better themselves," she said. "The majority of immigrants [who come to the United States] are hard-working people, willing to make sacrifices for the freedoms they don't have in their own country."
Barnes, who now has 15 years of military service, said she worked hard throughout high school and then entered the Army at the age of 19 as a private.
"I worked my way up, and I did a lot of the jobs no one else wanted to do," she said. "I didn't have a plush job, and just had to keep soldiering on."
By the time Barnes reached 13 years of service in the Army, she had achieved the rank of sergeant first class, completed a bachelor's degree and turned in a packet to become an officer. In 2007, Barnes received her commission as a second lieutenant in the Army's chemical branch.
Army Lt. Col. Matthew Karres, her battalion commander, said Barnes exudes the spirit of an American patriot and is someone who definitely deserves U.S. citizenship, especially when looking at all her hard work and sacrifices she made over the years.
"As a second-generation American who is a grandson of immigrants, I think this is awesome," said Karres, reflecting on Barnes receiving her citizenship. "We're all really proud of her. She's also getting promoted this month, so March is a big month for her."
Along with having pride in being an American citizen, Barnes said, she also will never forget her Pohnpeian culture and will pass that down to her children. And with both her children being native-born U.S. citizens, she added, she also will remind them of the sacrifices immigrants and others have made for them to have their freedom -- a freedom that many people living in other countries around the world might never experience.
"I'll definitely tell them to never take the country they live in for granted, and to be proud of and loyal to the [United States]."
(Army Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp serves in the Multinational Division Baghdad public affairs office.)