How did you become a citizen? For most of us, it was a gift from our parents - we were born here and given all of the gifts that being an American citizen entails. For others, they immigrated here. They came through hardships and waiting or were brought by their parents and given the gift of a life in America.
For a very special few who immigrated here, they showed their devotion to their new home and joined the military services. Many of them have fought and died for the United States of America - even though they were not citizens.
On Veterans Day, a special ceremony took place in Al Faw Palace, Camp Victory, Iraq. Seventy-five servicemembers from multiple branches of the military and thirty-three countries took the oath of citizenship.
Mehdi Ostadhashemi's mother fled Iraq after the Iran-Iraq war with her young son. Now eighteen years later, in a palace built by Saddam to commemorate the victory over Iran, this US Army Soldier became a citizen of the United States of America.
"Today we honor and remember America's heroes, our nation's veterans," Dr Zalmay Khalilzad, United States Ambassador to Iraq said. "You have assumed the highest responsibility of citizenship, and America is grateful for your courageous service and extraordinary sacrifices. Just like you, I am an American by choice, and I could not be prouder to stand here with you today. Each of you makes our nation a better, stronger country."
"These men and women before us today...have taken on the extraordinary responsibility of maintaining the freedoms for which the United States is so well known," said General George W. Casey. "You have already shown courage and determination in the dangerous and difficult task of bringing freedom to the Iraqi people well before you were citizens of the country you so proudly serve. On this Veterans Day it is my privilege to thank you, and to welcome the most deserving new citizens of the United States of America."
Dr. Emilio Gonzalez, Director of US Citizen and Immigration Services, flew to Baghdad to administer the oath of citizenship and present the certificates and flags to the new citizens. "They so love this country that they are willing to fight for it without being citizens. That says a lot about the character of the person."
I welcome these new citizens - these defenders of freedom and the American way of life - and, I thank them all for their dedication to our country.