Sept 13, 2013 -- CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa - Fifty-nine service members and status of forces agreement personnel from 24 different countries gathered for a citizenship ceremony Sept. 6 at the Camp Foster Theater.
The ceremony signifies the completion of the process of gaining U.S. citizenship that lasts six to eight-months.
The ceremony marked the culmination of a dream for candidates from around the world, according to David Roy, a field officer with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, U.S. Embassy, Manila, Republic of the Philippines.
“Across the globe the applicants are screened for every aspect of U.S. citizenship,” said Roy. They have been judged to have good moral character by USCIS agents during interviews (before being able to be granted citizenship).
The candidates swear an oath forsaking loyalty to their country of birth and pledge allegiance to the U.S during the ceremony.
“The military members here have volunteered to put themselves in harm’s way for a country that is not theirs,” said Walter Haith, a field officer with USCIS, U.S. Embassy, Seoul, Republic of Korea. “That changes today with this ceremony. Today, they are American citizens.”
Navy Capt. Catherine M. MacDonald, the guest speaker for the event, had previously gone through the citizenship process herself and shared words of wisdom with the new citizens.
“When I took the oath of citizenship I was 8 years old,” said MacDonald, the director of mental health at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa. “As time has gone on, I have come to view that oath in a different light. I look at it now as allowing me to become something beyond myself. It allowed me to become an American citizen and a naval officer.”
Serving the U.S. more fully was a goal of many of the service members taking part in the ceremony, according to Pfc. Elgene A. Cortez, an administrative specialist with the Installation Personnel Administration Center, Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler, Marine Corps Installations Pacific.
“Being naturalized as a U.S. citizen is one of the greatest achievements in my life,” said Cortez. “Being a part of this ceremony brought home what I chose to do. Even though I was not a citizen, I chose to become a Marine and I chose to become a citizen. I went through the process, so that I could serve my new country better than before.”
Serving as a citizen involves working with a multitude of different aspects to include cultures, people and ideas, according to MacDonald.
“Now is the time to expand your horizons to include not only the individuals around you but also the culture and the community,” said MacDonald. “The values that you bring strengthen the U.S. as a community and better our nation.”