Fort Bragg Soldiers Become U.S. Citizens in Iraq
Posted April 12, 2008 3:30 p.m. EDT
Camp Victory, Iraq — Fort Bragg soldiers serving in Iraq became newly minted American citizens in the largest naturalization service to be held overseas, military officials announced.
A total of 259 members of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps pledged their allegiance during a ceremony in Al Faw Palace at Camp Victory.
The naturalized citizens were born in 71 countries and ranged in age from 19 to 47.
"Our nation's unique quality is that it weaves the world's cultures into a great American tapestry, and our military benefits from their strengths," said Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of the Multi-National Corps in Iraq.
"Thank you all for sacrificing so much for the United States and for the Iraqi people."
Spc. Jose L. Mandario, with the 82nd Airborne, said he planned to surprise his family with an emailed copy of citizenship certificate. Originally from the Philippines, his family lives in Long Beach, Calif.
"My family doesn't even know I did this," Mandario said. "They will be very happy."
People packed three levels of the room as John Lafferty, a U.S. immigration official based in Rome, Italy, lead the servicemen and women in the United States Oath of Allegiance for Naturalized Citizens.
Afterward, Austin presented each soldier with a certificate of citizenship, and Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph R. Allen gave them an American flag.
"This is just amazing," said England-born Spc. Matthew J. McCallum, a personal-security detail soldier with the 82nd's 1st Brigade Combat Team. "There are so many more doors open for me now."
Pfc. Zully L. Schaeffer, with the 20th Engineer Brigade at Fort Bragg, said the naturalization ceremony was an awesome experience. The Peru native's family lives in Allentown, Pa.
"This is all so overwhelming," Schaeffer said. She came up with one word to describe how being one of America's newest citizens felt: "Happy."