Story courtesy of Wisconsin National Guard
(11/25/09) - Staff Sgt. Hannes Stieg, of the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 732nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion headquarters element, had something special to be thankful for this season - his new status as a U.S. citizen. "It's been a long time in the making," he said from Camp Adder, Iraq where he works as a transportation management non-commissioned officer. "It's a huge accomplishment."
Stieg, 29, was born in Friedrichrohda, East Germany. His family moved to West Germany Nov. 9, 1989 - the night the Berlin Wall came down. After his parents separated, Stieg's mother met an American teacher in West Germany, and they married. When he was 12, Stieg's family moved to Tomah. As their initial six-month visitor's visa expired, Stieg's family decided they liked living in Tomah and applied for permanent alien resident status, which was granted about one year later.
Stieg enjoyed hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities, which helped him blend in with his new neighbors. He said that he never looked at himself as not being a citizen, and at age 17 joined the Wisconsin Army National Guard. His experiences abroad helped him to appreciate his adopted country.
"There are a lot of things Americans don't realize that make the U.S. worth fighting for," he explained. "There are a lot of great people - the values they have, the way they treat each other is different from other places. And the opportunities we have here."
The National Guard was Stieg's opportunity to pay for college, and it also proved to be his opportunity for citizenship. He began the process during his first Iraq deployment, as a member of the Sparta-based 107th Maintenance Company, but the deployment ended before the paperwork was completed.
"I kind of dropped the ball," he acknowledged.
He began the citizenship process again with his second deployment, after learning from military lawyers that the process is expedited for deployed troops. He completed his paperwork and studied for the naturalization exams, which he said was not easy.
"I don't think the average American could pass that test without studying," he said.
Stieg and many other deployed service members took their oath of citizenship during a ceremony Nov. 11 in Baghdad, an event he described as "awesome."
"These people didn't grow up in America," he said. "To see all these people believing in the U.S. as something worth fighting for and worth more than they came from makes me realize how special this country is."