Soldiers get citizenship, deploy to secret mission

By Sgt Angela Green, 13th COSCOM PAO
Tam Cummings, Sentinel News editor

Editor's note: Due to the security of these Soldiers' mission in OIF, their names and ranks have been changed for this story, and their units are not listed.

FORT HOOD, Texas — As Americans prepare to celebrate their independence and freedom this weekend, four Soldiers from Fort Hood will celebrate their first weeks as U.S. citizens, serving their new country as interpreters in Operation Iraqi Freedom II. The men's language skills will be utilized as Iraq prepares her new government for the transfer of sovereignty over the next several months. The Soldiers were sworn in be Immigration and Naturalization Services officials during a recent ceremony in San Antonio and deployed within 48 hours to start their new duties.

Each of the men has been living and working in the United States for an average of eight years, before joining the Army several months ago. The ceremony left all of the men tearful as they recounted some of their reasons for undertaking citizenship.

"Serving in the American Army first of all, is (like being) a member of a family. I am a free man," Spc. John Hill said. Born in Central Africa, Hill said the government's policy of ethnic persecution in his native land led him to seek a new life and ultimately citizenship in America.

One of the Soldiers, Pfc. Jack Davis, was working in a store near the World Trade Center in New York City during the attacks on September 11. He said the memory of that day remains so painful he still "cannot speak of it." His quest for citizenship was fueled by the memories of the attacks and the belief that "everybody wants to belong to the better team."

Pfc. Raul Gomez said he is thankful for the opportunity to protect and assist his new country. "I feel this is my job, my family is here," Gomez, who is married to a U.S. citizen, said.

Originally a native of North Africa, Pfc. Bob Cosby said he came to America as an employee of the Walt Disney Company. Cosby said he realized his heritage could allow him to make a unique contribution to Operation Iraqi Freedom. "I thought that my language skills would help the global war on terrorism."

"We are a nation of immigrants and that diversity makes us strong," Col. Terry Walters, acting commander, 13th COSCOM rear detachment, said. Walters, a graduate of West Point, was born in England. She attended the ceremony with the Soldiers.

"I came to the U.S. when I was 12," Walters said. "I truly believe that there is no where else in the world where I would have had the same opportunities to succeed as I have had in the U.S. On way back to Fort Hood, all of these Soldiers talked about the opportunities that were open to them. They look forward to serving in Iraq because they view it as a debt of honor, a way of paying back the United States."

As unusual as these men's stories may seem, they are not alone in the Army. Almost 2,500 Soldiers at Fort Hood are in the process of earning their American citizenship. Many are currently deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, Anthony Marshall, an adjudications officer assigned to act as the INS's liaison to Fort Hood, said. Added security checks since 9-11 have caused delays in processing some of the Soldiers requests for citizenship and in December 2002, the INS program assisting Soldiers in obtaining their U.S. citizenship was de-activated.

Hill, Davis, Gomez and Cosby were able to obtain their citizenship through the efforts of Staff Sgt. Alfred Nieto, 2nd Chemical Battalion, 13th COSCOM re-enlistment and Fort Hood's Naturalization and Immigration liaison. Nieto said he has been able to help more than 150 Soldiers earn their citizenship since January 2003.


Col Terry Walters
COL Terry Walters participates in a citizenship ceremony in San Antonio