Forty-four soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan are celebrating this Fourth of July as American citizens for the first time after their naturalization ceremony at Kandahar Air Field.
As the morning sun beat down on the desert base last Friday, hundreds gathered inside the air-conditioned assembly hall for the ceremony. American flags lined the walls, patriotic music played, and smiles were everywhere.
"It's pretty exciting; we actually have 44 candidates from 24 different countries that are going to be naturalized today and become U.S. citizens," said Capt. Benjamin Wendland, one of the ceremony's organizers.
Wendland said there were lots of moving pieces to pull together for the naturalization ceremony, but one component was absolutely essential: the oath of citizenship.
"As soon as that oath is read and they receive their certificates, they are actually U.S. citizens," Wendland said.
Among those preparing to recite the oath was Griselda Murorodarte. The 21-year-old Army specialist was born in Mexico and grew up in California.
She said it's important for her to become a U.S. citizen.
"I do wear the flag on my right shoulder, and I proudly wear it, and now I can proudly say I'm an American citizen," she said.
When Murorodarte was 4, her mother took her and her sister to the U.S. to escape a bad family situation in southern Mexico. She said she owes everything to her mother because of all the sacrifices she made for her to be where she is today.
Murorodarte said she knew that joining the Army would allow her to get her citizenship more quickly, but the access to educational opportunities influenced her more. She's not focused on any of that right now, though.
"Honestly, my mindset at the moment is duty," she said. "Mission comes first, but this is a very special day for me and I'm always going to remember this."
Committing To The Military
Pfc. Shaeyon Klemann was born in Jamaica and moved to the U.S. with her dad when she was 19. She lived in Richmond, Va., for two years and then joined the Army. She said she also joined primarily so she could further her education.
"There's so much to do when you're a citizen, so many benefits," she said. She decided if she could go so far as to join the Army as a permanent resident, "I might as well go to the extreme and be a U.S. citizen."
Like the others at the ceremony, Klemann said it's a major accomplishment to take the oath.
"I'm very honored and very proud. It's been a long way, but it's here today," she said. "I'm very happy — overwhelmed."
Once everyone was inside, Brig. Gen. Kristin French addressed the candidates.
"You each have a unique story to tell about your journey that led you here today," she said. "But you all have one thing in common: You have all chosen not just to live in this country, but to serve this country and become an American citizen while deployed in Afghanistan."
Pius Bannis of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administered the all-important oath. The soldiers and Marines stood and recited it, then the crowd erupted in applause.
Marine Cpl. Carlos Silva, originally from Nicaragua, said his parents brought him to the U.S. when he was a child. He said they are also in the process of getting their citizenship.
"Pretty soon my entire family's going to be U.S. citizens," he said. "I'm happy about that; it's a proud day in my family."
His plans when he returns home from this tour?
"Spend time with family, be proud that I'm a U.S. citizen and hopefully vote in this election," he said.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
President Obama is marking this 4th of July holiday with a barbecue for military families. That happens this evening on the south lawn of the White House. This morning, the president speaks at a ceremony at the White House where active duty service members become U.S. citizens.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And in Afghanistan today, there are 44 soldiers and marines celebrating their first 4th of July as Americans. These men and women participated in a naturalization ceremony at Kandahar Air Field last week. NPR's Sean Carberry was there and sent us this postcard.
SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: As the morning sun beats down on the desert base, hundreds gather inside the air-conditioned assembly hall for the ceremony. American flags line the walls, patriotic music plays, and smiles are everywhere.
CAPTAIN BENJAMIN WENDLAND: Basically, it's like a big ceremony or a party that we're putting together.
CARBERRY: Captain Benjamin Wendland(ph) is one of the organizers of the ceremony.
WENDLAND: It's pretty exciting. We actually have 44 candidates from 24 different countries that are going to be naturalized today and become U.S. citizens.
CARBERRY: He says there were a lot of moving pieces to pull the ceremony together, but the single most important detail...
WENDLAND: Whether it's done here or anywhere in the world, they have to say the oath. And as soon as that oath is read and they receive their certificates, they are actually U.S. citizens.
CARBERRY: Among those preparing to recite that oath is Griselda Murorodarte(ph). The 21-year-old Army specialist was born in Mexico and grew up in California.
GRISELDA MURORODARTE: It's very important for me today to become a U.S. citizen because I do wear the flag on my right shoulder. And I proudly wear it. And now I can proudly say that I am an American citizen.
CARBERRY: She says that when she was 4, her mother took her and her sister from a bad family situation in southern Mexico and brought her to the U.S.
MURORODARTE: Everything I do today I do for her, because she did a lot of sacrifices for me in order for me to be here.
CARBERRY: She says she knew that joining the Army would allow her to get her citizenship more quickly, but she joined more because of the educational opportunities. Same with Private First Class Shaeyon Klemann(ph). She was born in Jamaica and lived there until she was 19.
PFC SHAEYON KLEMANN: Then I moved to the United States with my dad. I was living in Richmond, Virginia for two years, after which I joined the Army.
CARBERRY: And, like the others here, she's excited to take the oath.
KLEMANN: It's a major accomplishment. And I'm very honored and very proud. It's been a long way, but it's here today. And I'm very happy - overwhelmed.
CARBERRY: Once everyone's inside, the ceremony comes to order.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Welcome to the Joint Sustainment Command Afghanistan's 2012 Naturalization Ceremony.
CARBERRY: Brigadier General Kristin French addresses the candidates.
BRIGADIER GENERAL KRISTIN FRENCH: You each have a unique story to tell about your journey that led you here today. But you all have one thing in common. You're here because you've not merely chosen to live in this country, you have chosen to serve this country and to become an American citizen while deployed in Afghanistan.
CARBERRY: Pius Bannis with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administers the all-important oath.
PIUS BANNIS: So help me god.
CROWD: So help me god.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a round of applause as we congratulate our new American citizens.
CARBERRY: Marine Corporal Carlos Silva is originally from Nicaragua. His parents brought him to the U.S. when he was a child. He says his parents are also in the process of getting their citizenship.
CORPORAL CARLOS SILVA: It's real happy to know that pretty soon that my entire family's going to be U.S. citizens. I'm happy about that. It's a proud day in my family.
CARBERRY: And his plans when he returns home from this tour?
SILVA: Spend time with family, be proud that I'm a U.S. citizen and hopefully vote in this election.
CARBERRY: Sean Carberry, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.