American Forces Press Service
March 4, 2009 - During the 13th U.S. naturalization ceremony conducted for servicemembers in Iraq, 251 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from 65 different countries became American citizens in the rotunda of the Al Faw Palace here yesterday.
The youngest participant was 19, and the oldest was 45.
The servicemembers, from places such as Micronesia, Vietnam and Columbia, were welcomed into the American fold on foreign soil, where they're defending the principles of their new home country.
"American citizenship means that we each commit ourselves to our community, to our state and to our country," Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, told the new citizens. "It means that we participate in improving the quality of our society. It means exercising rights, respecting other's rights and defending our own rights."
Although the new citizens already have been living in the United States and serving in its military, there is still a great deal to gain by becoming an American, the general said. "We identify ourselves as 'American,'" he said, "but what does it mean to carry the title 'American'?"
"It's a blessing," said Army Spc. Rosemarie Narvaez, of the 1st Cavalry Division's 27th
Brigade Support Battalion, originally from the
Philippines. "I get the right to vote, which is something I've looked forward to doing."
"I'm glad I call America home," said Army Spc. Daley Bornsztejnof 2nd Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, who is Australian by birth. "It's great to be part of something bigger than yourself."
The new Americans all overcame obstacles before beginning their quest for citizenship. From civil wars to famine to leaving loved ones behind, each of the newly naturalized servicemembers had to fight to get where they are today.
"[Citizenship] means something different for each person," Austin said. For these men and women, it depends on their individual journeys to this point. It depends on what they endured along the way."
One new citizen, Army Spc. Regis Uwizeye from Rwanda, came to America as a refugee from civil wars that claimed both of his parents. But other countries he fled to, such as Congo and Kenya, were involved in civil war or civil unrest of their own. He applied for a program to bring refugees to America and was selected. Since then, America has offered him a safe haven.
"In America, I can sleep at night, and I know the government won't change overnight because of a military coup," said Uwizeye, who is with the 1st Cavalry Division's 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment.
The safety and future America represents give Uwizeye and other new citizens a strong sense of allegiance to their new homeland and a sense of responsibility to represent it properly.
"We have to stand up to the challenge of being the strongest country in the world," Uwizeye said.
(From a Multinational Corps Iraq news release.)