-Patriotism means many things to different people. In fact, it has even taken on a political connotation during the past few years. For service members deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, it means a long journey has finally come to fruition.
Thirty one service members from 19 different countries became naturalized U.S. citizens in a ceremony at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 2. The service members' ceremony was presided over by Elvis Quiles, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's overseas adjudications officer for Bangkok, Thailand. The Oath of Allegiance was administered by Pius Bannis, the USCIS district director for Bangkok.
Coming from countries as far away as Norway, Jamaica, Laos, Kenya, Japan and Moldova, the service members were very diverse in their heritage. One common denominator they all shared though, was their desire to become U.S. citizens.
Sgt. Grena Kirk, an aircraft electrician with Bravo Company, 209th Aviation Support Battalion, 25th Infantry Division, stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, was one of the proud new U.S. citizens. Kirk is originally from the Philippines and has been serving in the U.S Army as a legal resident.
Currently assigned to Kandahar Airfield in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Kirk traveled to BAF to participate in the naturalization ceremony.
"Becoming a U.S. citizen offers me more freedom. I can actually vote now," said Kirk. "Being in the military, I can now look for different [jobs] which require a security clearance. Becoming a citizen just opens up more doors and offers me more opportunities."
Becoming a naturalized citizen is a method for people who were not born in the U.S. to become citizens. Naturalized citizens swear by oath "to renounce and abjure their allegiance to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty and swear to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic."
In attendance at the ceremony was recently appointed U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, James B. Cunningham, who greeted each service member personally with a congratulatory handshake and encouraging words.
"Today is a great recognition, these are always very impressive ceremonies to welcome new citizens into the family of America," said Cunningham. "To see their desire to become U.S. citizens is always a wonderful thing."
"The fact that they joined up to serve my country, which will now become their country, before they were citizens is a demonstration of their commitment to the United States and their desire to be part of the American family," added Cunningham.
Another servic emember being naturalized was U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Valentin Straticiuc, who is originally from Odessa, Ukraine. Straticiuc, now referring to New York as his home, is an infantry rifleman with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Making the journey from Forward Operating Base Geronimo, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, to BAF, Straticiuc was ecstatic to become a U.S. citizen.
"Becoming a U.S. citizen means everything to me," said Straticiuc. "It means I'm fighting for the country that has given me more than I believe any other country would have."
"In my home country I could have dreamed of goals and died with those dreams," added Straticiuc. "In this country though, I can make those goals happen."