NEWS | March 25, 2008

Soldiers become American citizens in Africa

By Staff Sgt Jennifer Redente U.S. Air Force, CJTF-HOA

Soldiers deployed to the Horn of Africa say the Oath of Allegiance during a Military Naturalization Ceremony held at the U.S. Embassy March 13. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jennifer Redente
Soldiers deployed to the Horn of Africa say the Oath of Allegiance during a Military Naturalization Ceremony held at the U.S. Embassy March 13. U.S. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jennifer Redente)

DJIBOUTI (March 16, 2008) — Seven Soldiers supporting the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa mission became U.S. citizens during a Military Naturalization Ceremony at the U.S. Embassy March 13.

After enlisting in the Army and serving the United States, Four Soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 294th Infantry (Light), Delta Company, and three Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, Delta Company, raised their right hands and said the Oath of Allegiance.

During the ceremony, Ambassador W. Stuart Symington, U.S. Ambassador to Djibouti and keynote speaker, addressed the candidates reminding them about the oath they took to protect and defend the United States and the Constitution when enlisting in the Army, and explained that the Oath of Allegiance was reaffirming what the Soldiers had already sworn to do.

“You all have already fought for our freedom,” said Symington. “No other American has earned the right to our citizenship like you have done. You have already risked your lives, your liberty and pledged your honor to that same cause, and few men and women have done that since as the terms of their citizenship. You are special for that reason.”

Prior to the oath, Linda Dougherty, immigration officer for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, gave a little background on naturalization.

“Each candidate for naturalization has a unique story of his life and efforts to become an American - a privilege many of us view nothing more than a birth right,” said Dougherty. “Although all non-military candidates for naturalization must be interviewed and take the oath of citizenship in the United States, since Oct. 1, 2004, Active Duty military have been eligible to be oathed worldwide. I attended the first ceremony at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and the first here in Djibouti in September of 2006.

“At each ceremony, the military has been thankful for our willingness to go where they are based, but we consider it an honor to serve those who have chosen to serve a country they could not yet call their own,” she said. “Before, you were candidates from five countries who upon taking the oath, will become citizens of one.”

Dougherty then presented the seven candidates from Micronesia, Canada, Kenya, Philippines and Palau for naturalization.

Once the Soldiers recited the Oath of Allegiance, Army Spc. Markus N. Manabat, 1st Battalion, 294th Infantry (Light), Delta Company machine gunner, led the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time as an American citizen.

“It’s a special day for us,” said Manabat, a Mangialo, Guam, native who is a part of the Guam National Guard. “There’s no feeling like it. It’s overwhelming – a dream come true. Everyone wants to become a U.S. citizen.”

The vast feelings of becoming a citizen was also a similar feeling for Army Spc. Peter P. Irungu, 1st Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, Delta Company, also known as the Old Guard, supply specialist.

“It’s hard to describe what I’m feeling,” he said. “Now being a citizen, on a professional level, I can advance being a ranger.”

Irungu joined the military in 2004, after emigrating from Nairobi, Kenya.

“I felt like I owed something to the country, and I should pay back,” said Irungu. “I feel very privileged to be at this point. It’s a pretty big milestone.”

Becoming an American citizen is a unique experience, but for the Nariobi native, being deployed to Africa and going through the naturalization process was quite an experience.

“There’s a special connection serving here,” said Irungu. “The last year of my military service I have spent in my homeland. It’s been an honor and a privilege to be able to contribute in an effective way.”

Some American’s may take the opportunities available to them for granted, but for this new citizen, he is well aware of the benefits that can be gained by being a United States citizen.

“The thing about the American culture is that there are a lot of opportunities,” he said. “It’s unlimited on what you can achieve. It’s being plugged into huge capabilities. You’re able to advance yourself in so many different ways. In other countries, it’s very difficult to advance yourself. Going to school is pretty expensive. When it comes to employment, there are all kinds of jobs; it’s just phenomenal.”