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Many New American Citizens Are Foreign-Born Members of US Military

Since the terrorist attacks on the United States eight years ago, 52,000 foreign-born members of the American military have become naturalized U.S. citizens. According to the Pentagon, more than 100 of these new Americans have been killed in action fighting for the United States.

On a cool September day, surrounded by family, friends and fellow service members, 31 foreign-born members of the United States military gathered outside in the Pentagon's courtyard to be sworn in as new citizens of the United States.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates thanked the men and women for their service, saying "Represented here are immigrants from 20 different countries on five continents. It is one of the true glories of our country that when it comes to being an American, you do not have to be a descendant of the founders or the colonists who came over on the Mayflower."

The service members were born in such countries as China, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Liberia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

Some of the immigrants have served in the U.S. military for years, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, while others are new recruits.

Secretary Gates says the nation welcomes the service members with warmth and pride. "It is not just that after today you are as American as anyone. It is not just that you have passed an exam on the United States government and its laws, not just your knowledge and your beliefs. But your actions, your willingness to put yourself in harm's way for the rest of us earn you the approval and the sincere admiration of all Americans," he said.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano led the group in reciting the Oath of Allegiance to the U.S. Constitution.

In various accents of English, the immigrants vowed to support the nation's laws.

Secretary Napolitano praised the new Americans. "It takes a special kind of person to serve and defend a nation which is not yet their own. But that is precisely what each of you has done and is doing in serving the United States with honor and with distinction," she said.

22-year-old Payam Abrar Ahadi left Iran 10 years ago and recently joined the Army as a linguist, cultural educator and translator.

Ahadi, who will soon be deployed in Afghanistan, says his goal to join the U.S. military developed when he was very young. "I always liked it. I always liked the military ever since I was little, watching them in the movies. I always wanted to be one and I got a chance to be in the U.S. military here and I took it," he said.

An executive order signed in 2002 allows foreign-born members of the U.S. military serving on or after September 11, 2001, to become immediately eligible for U.S. citizenship - an expedited way for those troops to become full Americans.

A new pilot program authorizes the military to recruit legal aliens with critical skills, including physicians, nurses and experts in certain languages.

31-year-old Changhoon Jeon was born in South Korea and is a trained nurse. He is a 2nd lieutenant in the Army who was recruited for his medical skills. "I really appreciate the U.S. government. They offered this great program so I am really honored for that," he said.

The U.S. military has included citizens from other countries since the Revolutionary War that founded the nation, more than 225 years ago.

In the past 12 months more than 9,000 foreign-born immigrants serving in the military have become naturalized American citizens.