News

    Immigrant Troops Become US Citizens

    The five-sided courtyard in the center of the Pentagon hosts a variety of special events.  And there was a particularly unusual one there on a glorious spring day this week.  VOA's Al Pessin reports.

    A total of 22 mostly young, mostly low-ranking soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines sat shyly in two rows of chairs, wearing their dress uniforms, surrounded by well-wishers and facing a stage lined with American flags.

    ANNOUNCER:  "Ladies and gentlemen, please rise and remain standing for the entrance of the official party."

    The deputy secretary of defense, a two-star general, and two officials from the U.S. Immigration Service took the stage.  The 22 service members in the front rows were among the more than 30,000 non-citizens serving in the U.S. armed forces.  And on that day they were becoming American citizens.  Among them was Olu-fola-hanmi Ayo'ola Omotayo Coker, a U.S. Navy seaman from Nigeria.

    "If you told me this five years ago, I'd be laughing at you, you know," he said.

    Seaman Coker came to the United States five years ago through the visa lottery system, at the age of 30.  He says his family and friends could not believe it when he joined the Navy two years later, in search of adventure.

    "When I first signed up, they were looking at me crazy, but I had to let them know the opportunity the Navy's giving me," he recalled.  "And now they see what the Navy is doing for me, and they're proud of me now."

    Seaman Coker is a religious program assistant, helping chaplains organize services and other events in all religions.

    Sitting nearby is an administrative clerk with a dream, Teresia Kamau, 22, from Kenya, a corporal in the United States Marine Corps.

    "People don't really know you're not a citizen unless you tell them you're not a citizen, but it is different because it does come with boundaries," she said.  "You can't do everything an American citizen can do."

    Among the things Corporal Kamau could do was be assigned to a seven-month deployment in Iraq in 2006, which she calls "a really great experience."  One of the things non-citizens cannot do is become officers, and that is the next thing Corporal Kamau wants to do.

    Before long, it's time to get down to the business of the ceremony.

    MASTER OF CEREMONIES:  "Would you please raise your right hands and repeat after me.  I hereby declare on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity..."

    The applicants are standing, with their right hands raised, focused on the oath, while the spectators around them are beaming.

    MASTER OF CEREMONIES:  "...that I will support and defend the constitution and laws of the United States of America..."

    They clutch small American flags, as the buttons on their uniforms sparkle in the sunshine.

    MASTER OF CEREMONIES:  "...and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.  So help me God.  Congratulations, you are America's newest citizens."

    Major General James Graves welcomes the new citizen service members, who came from 15 countries, mainly in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

    "We are a greater country," he said.  "We are a stronger country.  We are a better country today because you have joined us this day as Americans."

    Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England points out that the honorees volunteered to do something very difficult, that they did not have to do.

    "Long before this day, you had volunteered to serve your nation of choice in a most demanding occupation, and during one of the most demanding periods in the nation's recent history," he said. "Will the newly naturalized candidates please rise and come forward to receive your certificate when your name is called.   Corporal Jose De Las Bada Wright.  Petty Officer Third Class Tamisha Houselan."

    The new citizens move forward, one by one, to get their citizenship certificates and a handshake and photo with the senior officials.

    Last in line is Seaman Coker.

    When it's over, family, friends and strangers who happened to be passing through the courtyard gather around to congratulate the new citizens.  Seaman Coker says he feels different than he felt just a few minutes earlier.

    "I feel different again now that it's finally here, you know," he explained.  "It's just like they told you you got a check, and now here is the check, you know, you've got it in your hand.  That's how I feel now."

    Corporal Kamau has difficulty finding words to describe her feelings.

    KAMAU: "It's like more Ahhh!  It's…  [I'm] still excited.  Still excited. 
    PESSIN: "Do you feel that something important changed a few minutes ago?"
    KAMAU:  "Actually, a lot has changed.  I can put in my officer package tomorrow, so we'll see.  We'll see."
    PESSIN: "You've got it ready to go tomorrow?"
    KAMAU:  "Yes, I do.  Yes, I do.  That's a funny thing.  I do, so, yeah."

    General Graves points out that as legal immigrants, these people were able to join the U.S. military, but now, he says, they can do something more.

    "When they become citizens they get to be part of the process of determining what the policy is through the privilege that they have at the voting booth," he said.

    The Pentagon says 37,000 service members have taken advantage of a program instituted by President Bush after the September 11th attacks to enable non-citizens in the U.S. military to become citizens through a fast-track process.  Another 22 were added to that number at the Pentagon this week.  Just a few days earlier 159 others participated in a similar ceremony while deployed in Baghdad.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkey Islamists

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora