***image1***Twenty-eight active-duty servicemembers became U.S. citizens in a special overseas naturalization ceremony hosted by Maj. Gen. Bennie E. Williams, Commanding General of the 21st Theater Support Command Oct. 6 at the Armstrong’s Club on Vogelweh.
The Kaiserslautern event was the third naturalization ceremony for U.S. servicemembers abroad and the first one in Germany.
An amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act took affect Oct.1, permitting members of the armed forces serving outside the United States to become naturalized citizens.
“At military naturalization ceremonies in Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany, I had the distinct privilege of administering the oath of allegiance to men and women who had pledged to protect America’s freedom,” said Under Secretary Eduardo Aguirre, director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“Thousands of immigrant troops are making extraordinary sacrifices for America. There is no more fitting way for a grateful nation to demonstrate its appreciation than through granting qualified service members the privilege of U.S. citizenship as quickly as possible, to carry out their dream of becoming American,” he said.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Mikelle Aaron, a citizen of the Commonwealth of Dominica, West Indies, had missed two interview dates because she is stationed at the U.S. Naval Hospital, Sigonella, Italy. She was thrilled to have this unexpected opportunity to become a citizen in Germany.
“I had 10 days notice and still can’t believe it’s happening,” she said the day before the ceremony.
It was the end to a long wait for 21st Theater Support Command Soldier Sgt. Wilma Allen, 68th Transportation Company heavy truck driver, who was born and raised in Germany. She became eligible for her permanent residency status, or “green card,” when she married an American and had served in the Army for six years.
“Finally,” she said. “I have been waiting for this day for three and a half years, even had to get my congressman involved. This is very exciting, a great day.”
A commitment to their military service seems a common bond between her and many of her fellow immigrants who became U.S. citizens.
“I want to be able to stay in (the Army). I want to retire as a command sergeant major,” she said.
Similarly, Petty Officer 3rd Class Aaron, who has been in the Navy for four years, said that without becoming a full-fledged citizen she would have to leave military service after eight years.
“For me joining the Navy was like a calling I want to stay in and become an officer, and I want to continue in the medical field,” she said.
It was a day of bitter-sweet emotions for Spc. M.D. Rabbi Alam, who had been forced to flee his native Khulna, Bangladesh, four years ago, and had applied for citizenship Sept. 26, 2002.
He said, he is proud to be an American. His wife, son and mother were able to witness his pledge of allegiance.
“I’m hoping to get more respect when I am an American citizen. I am a good American. I am fighting for this country. It’s my land … it’s my home,” he said.