Former President George Bush was on hand Friday at his presidential library in College Station, Texas as a federal judge conferred citizenship on 47 immigrants who are currently serving in the U.S. military.
The new citizens hail from 27 nations and currently serve in the US Army, Navy and Air Force. More than half have served in Iraq or other combat areas. Former President George Bush assisted in presenting them with their citizenship papers and praised their dedication to their new country.
"To those gathered here today and so many more who are not here, 'duty, honor, country' is not merely a slogan but rather it is a timeless creed of service by which they live their lives," said Mr. Bush.
Later, speaking with reporters, the former president, who served as a US Navy pilot in WWII, said he was deeply moved by the citizenship ceremony.
"This was a very emotional service,? he added. ?To see these people who are serving their country now becoming American citizens, I tell you, the tears began to flow. There is something so fundamental about this, something so strong for our country about this."
Airman Fernanda Fernandez Hord came to the United States with her family from Brazil when she was 11 years old. She says that, even though she grew up in this country and married an American, becoming a citizen has completed her entry into what she calls the American family.
"I feel like I am part of the family now,? she said. ?I have been here all these years and they have given me so much and the Air Force has given me so much and now I feel like 100 percent part of the family."
There are currently close to 45,000 non-U.S. citizens serving in the various branches of the US military. Many of the immigrants offer special skills that might not be commonly found in the general population of U.S. citizens.
U.S. Army Specialist Chi Sung, who came to the United States as a child from South Korea, recently worked in Iraq as an interpreter and liaison between U.S. troops and South Korean troops who were serving there as part of the international coalition.
For him, Friday's ceremony represented a door opening to all the benefits of citizenship. "I feel good, great,? he said. ?I was waiting for several years and now I can follow my dreams."
Although military officials say there is no special effort to recruit non-citizens into the armed forces, they are welcomed as long as they meet basic requirements including legal residence. Before the Iraq war, which began two years ago, non-citizens serving in the U.S. military had to have had three years of service before they could be naturalized. In July 2003, President Bush announced that non-citizens serving in the U.S. Armed Forces would qualify for expedited naturalization, retroactive to September 11, 2001, the date of the terrorist attacks on the United States. There are currently pending 14,000 applications for citizenship by immigrants serving in the U.S. military.