— ADVERTISEMENT —
25th Division soldiers
What stood in the way of these three soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division was that they were resident aliens.
That all changed on Oct. 1 when they became naturalized citizens.
They were among the 17 soldiers -- six of them Tropic Lightning members -- who were the first to swear allegiance to their adopted country, the United States, while on foreign soil.
Eduardo Aguirre, Jr., the first director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, presided over the special naturalization ceremony at Bagram Air Field. Aguirre is also a naturalized U.S. citizen who emigrated from Havana when he was 15.
The 17 soldiers are part of the nearly 5,500 members of the 25th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team which has been in Afghanistan since April.
Carrion, 23, said in a phone interview from Afghanistan this week that as a permanent resident alien, who was born in Ecuador and came to the United States when he was 3, he could only stay in the Army for eight years.
So in June he submitted his naturalization application.
"It came through really fast," said Carrion, who is a member of 125th Signal Battalion's Charlie Company. "I was surprised since I was told that for some civilians it could take at least a year."
Carrion enlisted in the Army three years after graduating from a high school in Jersey City, N.J., and was sent to Schofield Barracks in February 2001. He wants to spend at least 20 years wearing Army green.
For La Torre, 22, the process took a little longer. She applied in August 2001.
Her family moved from Peru to Kearny, N.J., when she was 3. Her father was naturalized in 1990, but her mother has been unsuccessful in her application because of language difficulties.
"I really wanted to be a part of this country," said La Torre, who is a combat medic with the 25th Military Police Company and has been in Bagram since April 6.
"I want to be a part of this American family and the big melting pot. I want to be able to vote ... and say where my tax dollars will go. For me, that is a big thing."
La Torre, who only has a few classes to complete before she can obtain her associate degree in nursing from Honolulu Community College, wants eventually to attend medical school with the financial help of the Army and continue as a pediatrician.
Simms, 24, also applied for citizenship in 2001, and had to reapply again two years later because of problems with his first application.
He also sought U.S. citizenship because he wanted the chance to vote and wants to get a government job in computers once his enlistment ends four years from now. Simms, who is from Jamaica, is a member of 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery at Kandahar.
During the naturalization ceremony held in a large tent, Maj. Gen. Eric Olson, 25th Infantry Division commander, told the audience "the 17 candidates represent a cross-section of 13 different countries, from Pakistan to Poland. These dedicated soldiers all come together for one common purpose -- to receive their American citizenship.
"Collectively, they have already served our nation for more than 68 years. Today, as each of their dreams become reality, each of these candidates is putting service to the United States of America above self. They are each making significant contributions to the global war on terrorism."
Also attending the naturalization ceremony was U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalizad.
Last November, President Bush approved the 2004 National Defense Authorization Act, which allows overseas military naturalization ceremonies. Before Oct. 1, military members could only be naturalized while in the United States.
During the past year, 9,000 military members became U.S. citizens. Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 1.5 million people have become naturalized U.S. citizens.
Similar ceremonies took place in Germany and Iraq with others planned for South Korea on Oct. 14 and Tokyo four days later.
BACK TO TOP