October 10, 2011
By Sgt. Edwin Rodriguez, 7th Sustainment Brigade
Afghanistan, – Historically, generations of men and women, many of them foreign born, have been called to duty for the United States military.
As a service to those immigrants in uniform, the U.S. government has given citizenship to thousands of immigrants whom served honorably.
In northern Afghanistan, military members were honored as their final dreams of becoming U.S. citizens came true.
Forty-six service members took the Oath of Allegiance, becoming U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony held on Bagram Air Field, Sept. 28. Three were Soldiers assigned to 129th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, Task Force Resolute, 7th Sustainment Brigade.
“Before I deployed to Afghanistan, one of my goals was to apply for citizenship,” said Spc. Moises Gonzalez, a motor transport operator with the 546th Transportation Company, 129th CSSB, who left Mexico at the age of 7. “My family and squad leader kept me motivated to finish the process. I feel proud to be an American citizen.”
The general process to be an American citizen can take years to complete, however, if an immigrant joined the U.S. military, they can then apply for an expedited citizenship. Special exception is given to those Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines currently deployed in support of overseas contingency operations. Gonzalez, like many of the service members in the ceremony, started his application process before there deployment.
There are many documents needed to verify the history of applicants. For service members deployed overseas, one specific document that is needed is a certified letter stating that the service member is serving honorably, said Robert Daum, Deputy District Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Bangkok, Thailand.
After the paperwork is complete and pre-interviews conducted next comes coordination to complete as soon as possible the process for all applicants.
“We try to have the ceremony in conjunction with the naturalization test and final interview to facilitate the service members,” said Daum. “We want to complete the process within six months or less so they can go back home U.S. citizens.”
The Oath of Allegiance concludes the ceremony. They pledged their allegiance to defend the U.S., which is now their official home. Even though their place of birth may now be thousands of miles away, they will never forget where they came from.
Pfc. Renante Manalastas, assigned to the 549th TC, 129th CSSB, has only lived in the U.S. for six years, who was originally born in the Philippines. After his wife Rowena was naturalized a few years ago and his daughter, Renae, was born in Guam, his next decision was easy.
“It was only natural to become a citizen but as a child I knew I wanted to be a Soldier. I am proud to be one as an American,” said Manalastas.
Pfc. Piotr Mscichowski, assigned to the 593rd TC, 129th CSSB, came from Poland at the young age of 9. Becoming a citizen was not the only goal in his life.
“I joined the Army for adventure and excitement. I wanted to gain life experience so I knew the Army was the way to go” said Mscichowski, who joined the Army just last year.
During the ceremony, the guest speaker, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, highlighted the significance of the service members present and future.
“Each of you chose to put on that uniform of the U.S. military knowing you will be put in harm’s way,” said Crocker. “That flag on your right shoulder is now yours.”
The 46 service members in the ceremony represent 25 nations across the world. Each has different goals, beliefs and customs that exemplify the diversity of the U.S. military. As U.S. citizens, they now share one common responsibility in that they fight as one to defend the same nation: the United States of America.