President's Day will likely be a special holiday for a Wisconsin National Guard Soldier currently serving in
- it will be the anniversary of the day the 25-year-old Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldier became a Iraq citizen. U.S.
Spc. Carlos Villa-Rivera,
, is a decontamination specialist deployed to Keil, Wis. with Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment. He is also one of 53 Soldiers representing 31 nationalities who took the oath of citizenship Feb. 21 during a naturalization ceremony at Saddam Hussein's Al Faw Palace in Iraq . Baghdad
"To become a citizen is something I've wanted to do for a long time," said Mexico-born Villa-Rivera. His family obtained visas and moved to
in 2000 when he was 15 years old because the area of Wisconsin where they had been living was becoming dangerous. "My mother wanted better opportunities for us," he explained. Mexico
"It has been called the 'Great American Experience'," said Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, United States Forces-
commander, during the naturalization ceremony. "It is called that because it became a nation of immigrants on a foreign land and none of them knew at the time whether it would succeed or fail." Iraq
Villa-Rivera joined the Wisconsin National Guard for the education benefits, and hopes to make a career in the Guard. 1st Sgt. Jason Hanson, the senior noncommissioned officer in Villa-Rivera's unit, spoke highly of the Soldier he refers to as "Spc. 'V'."
"He is a 'never say die' troop who constantly seeks out more responsibility," Hanson said. "He is an air assault graduate and he made that look easy. He puts a face to the Army values, and I am ever so proud to have him as one of my warriors."
Hanson added that Villa-Rivera is a two-time battalion Soldier of the year winner, and this year was a top-five finisher at the brigade level competition.
The new citizens had a chance to meet each other and trade stories of their journey from their homeland to Saddam's palace the week leading up to the ceremony. All were brought from their bases throughout
to ensure that their citizenship and passport paperwork were in order prior to reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as Iraq citizens for the first time. U.S.
Villa-Rivera began the citizenship application process last September in
, and said he received plenty of assistance from unit leadership and military legal advisors. He said he is looking forward to voting for the first time. Iraq
"If you don't participate in the democratic process, you don't have a valid reason to complain," he said.
The 147th arrived in
last September following six weeks of training at Iraq . The Soldiers are responsible for all aviation operations - including troop and cargo movements, medevac and attack missions - in United States Division-South, which covers nine provinces of Fort Hood , including the area south of Iraq . Baghdad
Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Troth, Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs, contributed to this report.