28 Servicemembers Become U.S. Citizens

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait (Army News Service, July 3, 2007) - Twenty-eight servicemembers from 14 countries, all serving in the Third Army/U.S. Army Central area of operation, became new U.S. citizens at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait June 29.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, non-naturalized servicemembers who opt to become U.S. citizens are exempt from certain naturalization requirements including residency and physical presence in the U.S.

"The ceremony gives a lot of these guys credit," said Chaplain (Capt.) Kirk Thorsteinson of the 3rd Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment. "They were willing to fight for a country that they weren't even citizens of. I wish all Americans felt that way about their country."

"I feel proud," said Sgt. Noli Batac of the 3rd Bn., 297th Inf. Regt. "I feel happy now that everything is complete and official."

Sgt. Batac was born and raised in Manila, Philippines. He emigrated to Juneau, Alaska, in May, 2001 and enlisted in the Alaska National Guard several months later out of pride and appreciation for his adopted country and anger at the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

According to Chaplain Thorsteinson, Sgt. Batac can now petition for his wife and two children to move to the United States from the Philippines.

"My wife is proud of what I do," Sgt. Batac said. "My children know what I do and they are going to be even more proud of me today. Now, it's my turn to better my family.

"When I moved here, I saw the good that it did for my family," he said. "We were poor and my parents wanted to improve our lives. This is my way of saying thanks to my parents and to my country."

Sgt. Erwin Durano, also from Manila and the 3rd Bn., 297th Inf. Regt., decided to become an American citizen for similar reasons.

"I felt like it was my duty, I wanted to support and defend my country," he said. "As soon as I set foot in America, I felt like it was already my country. Now it is official and I feel even prouder. I wish every American felt this way about defending their country."

Sgt. Durano urges every non-naturalized servicemember in the military to become a citizen.

"If you're willing to fight for the country, you might as well be a citizen. You deserve it," he said.

The USCIS has naturalized more than 32,500 servicemembers since the beginning of the war on terrorism, and approximately 8,000 of the 700,000 citizens naturalized each year serve in the military. Every installation has a point of contact for servicemembers wishing to become U.S. citizens.

(Spc. Giancarlo Casem is a public affairs specialist with the 50th Public Affairs Detachment.)