Soldiers take oath of Citizenship in Iraq
By Spc. Leah R. Burton
28th Public Affairs Detachment
LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Balad, Iraq — Forty-eight non-U.S. citizen service members raised their right hands, took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America and became naturalized U.S. citizens at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Oct. 3.
Prior to Oct. 1, legislation stated that an applicant for U.S. citizenship had to take the exam and oath on U.S. soil. Effective Oct. 1, Congress granted the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the authority to allow applicants to take the exam, interview and oath at certain overseas locations.
"The United States recognizes the contributions non-citizen service members make in ensuring we remain a free nation, and as a sign of appreciation, the United States has expedited the naturalization process for non-U.S. citizens who serve on active duty during Operation Iraqi Freedom," said Capt. Marc Defreyn, chief of client services, LSA Anaconda Consolidated Legal Center.
About 7,000 non-citizen service members have cases pending with the USCIS. About 2,000 Soldiers serving in OIF and Operation Enduring Freedom are non- U.S. citizens.
Spc. Jote Aga, a native of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and a truck driver with the 630th Transportation Company here, immigrated to the U.S. with his parents in 1997.
He applied for citizenship in 2003, but due to this deployment was unable to attend his naturalization appointment, where he would have taken the exam and completed his interview with a USCIS officer. After passing the exam and interview in Baghdad, Aga was able to join the other applicants who took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States.
"I wasn't planning to get sworn in over here," Aga said. "The U.S. gave me the opportunity to pursue my goals."
The USCIS's goal is to process military members' applications within four months. It normally takes six months or longer.
"I have seen an increase on the number of service members taking advantage of this expedited process, especially our fellow guard and reserve service members," Defreyn said.
In addition to the expedited process, USCIS has also waived the filing fee for applicants serving in the U.S. armed forces.
"The decision to become a U.S. citizen is an important decision in a service member's life. They are demonstrating a commitment to the United States and while they will enjoy all of the benefits of being a U.S. citizen, they also bear all of the responsibilities," said Defreyn. "I hope the first official act they do as a United States citizen is to vote in the soonest election to ensure their voice is heard."
Non-citizen Soldiers who would like information about or help with the application process can attend a citizenship clinic at the Sustainer Indoor Theater at 8 a.m. Oct. 19. The Staff Judge Advocate staff provides all the necessary forms and walks the individuals through the process. They take the photographs and coordinate with both the military police for fingerprints and the personnel services battalion for verification of service data. Once the packet is complete, the staff gives the individuals the address where to send their application packets.
"I can't imagine what would be more memorable for a service member than to become a U.S. citizen while serving during [OIF,]" Defreyn said.
"This means a lot to me. I'm so happy I'm serving the country. It's nice to become a citizen," Aga said.
Editors Note: Spc. Burton is a member of the 28th Public Affairs Detachment from Fort Lewis, Wash. She is currently deployed to Iraq in support of the 13th Corps Support Command at LSA Anaconda.
(LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Balad, Iraq) - Five of the newly naturalized 13th Corps Support Command Soldiers pose for a picture with Brig. Gen. James E. Chambers, 13th COSCOM commander after the naturalization ceremony at the Al-Faw Palace in Baghdad Oct. 3 . (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Leah R. Burton)
(LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Balad, Iraq) - Several newly naturalized citizen service members recite the Pledge of Allegiance after being sworn in as U.S. citizens at the Al Faw Palace in Camp Victory, Baghdad, Oct. 3.(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Leah R. Burton)