War on Terrorism

Friday, March 04, 2011

Wisconsin Guard Soldier becomes U.S. citizen in Iraq

Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs Office

President's Day will likely be a special holiday for a Wisconsin National Guard Soldier currently serving in Iraq - it will be the anniversary of the day the 25-year-old Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldier became a U.S. citizen.

Spc. Carlos Villa-Rivera, Keil, Wis., is a decontamination specialist deployed to Iraq 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 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 Wisconsin in 2000 when he was 15 years old because the area of Mexico where they had been living was becoming dangerous. "My mother wanted better opportunities for us," he explained.

"It has been called the 'Great American Experience'," said Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, United States Forces-Iraq 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."

Austin went on to say that the Soldiers who became citizens in Camp Victory are a reminder that the strength evident in the nation and the Army comes from ethnic and cultural diversity.

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 Iraq to ensure that their citizenship and passport paperwork were in order prior to reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as U.S. citizens for the first time.

Villa-Rivera began the citizenship application process last September in Iraq, 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.

"If you don't participate in the democratic process, you don't have a valid reason to complain," he said.

The 147th arrived in Iraq last September following six weeks of training at Fort Hood. 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 Iraq, including the area south of Baghdad.

Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Troth, Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs, contributed to this report.

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