By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 4, 2012 – Twenty-five U.S. service members filed through the White House East Room today in dress uniforms, proudly displaying their service and sacrifices to America, and took their citizenship oath before their commander in chief.
They were among more than 4,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who became U.S. citizens during Independence Day ceremonies also held at U.S. military installations in Kandahar, Afghanistan; Seoul, South Korea; Las Vegas; Miami; Tegucigalpa, Honduras; and San Diego.
Obama said it brought him “great joy and inspiration” to conduct the ceremony on America’s 236th birthday. “It reminds us that we are a country that is bound together not simply by ethnicity or bloodlines, but by fidelity to a set of ideas,” he said.
“As members of our military, you raised your hand and took an oath of service,” he continued. “It is an honor for me to serve as your commander in chief. Today, you raised your hand and have taken an oath of citizenship. And I could not be prouder to be among the first to greet you as ‘my fellow Americans.’”
Obama addressed the service members and their families in a late morning ceremony as White House staff prepared for an evening barbeque for military members and their families that will include viewing the annual Fourth of July fireworks over the Washington Monument.
The president noted various evolutions throughout the nation’s history, and pointed out that what began as “a ragtag army of militias and regulars” –has become “the finest military that the world has ever known.”
The service members arrived in America in different ways – some as children, and some as adults, Obama noted. “All of you did something profound,” he said. “You chose to serve. You put on the uniform of a country that was not yet fully your own. In a time of war, some of you deployed into harm’s way. You displayed the values that we celebrate every Fourth of July: duty, responsibility and patriotism.”
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas presided over the White House ceremony, and noted that he was a refugee who became a naturalized U.S. citizen. “These 25 exceptional individuals took an oath to support and defend the Constitution before sharing fully in the rights and opportunities it provides,” he said. “We are all inspired by their commitment to freedom and service to preserve our great nation.”
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano delivered the Oath of Allegiance. “Today, you have earned all the rights and responsibilities that come with being a citizen of the United States,” she said. “America is now your country. You have worked so hard to get here. You should be just as proud of this achievement as I am to call you my fellow citizen.”
More than 80,000 U.S. service members have become American citizens since 2001, Napolitano said. “Our nation thanks you for your service,” she told the new citizens. “We owe the freedoms we all enjoy to the sacrifices of men and women like you.”
The Homeland Security Department is working with the Defense Department to expand a process that began in 2009 to offer noncitizen enlistees the opportunity to become naturalized citizens before completing basic training “so that they can graduate as naturalized citizens,” Napolitano said.
“We will continue to do all that we can to expedite the naturalization process for those like you who have sacrificed so much,” she added.
Army Spc. Oluwatosin Akinduro immigrated to Houston from Lagos, Nigeria, with his parents when he was 6. He said he is the first in his family to become a U.S. citizen and that he hopes to lead by example, both in the military and in his personal life.
“My family is very proud of me today,” he said. “I’m a little nervous, speechless. This is something I’m doing for myself and my family.”
After graduating from high school, Akinduro played football for Rutgers University in New Jersey and hoped to play professionally. When that goal wasn’t realized, he said, he joined the Army and plans to make it his career.
“I have my head up, my chest out, and I’m just so proud of what I’m doing,” he said. I come from a very proud background. I don’t believe in fear too much. With my background, I always believed I could do anything I put my mind to.”