US Service Members Become Americans in Africa
U.S. soldiers and sailors waved miniature American flags as they welcomed America's newest citizens into their ranks.
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Kelan Scott and U.S. Army Sergeant Joel Lara raised their right hands and swore the Oath of Allegiance to the United States in front of other U.S. service members during a naturalization ceremony at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, January 25.
"This was pretty cool," said Scott, a utilitiesman with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5 who emigrated to the United States from St. Lucia, an island country in the eastern Caribbean Sea. "This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be naturalized here, at Camp Lemonnier. It was very gracious of the camp leadership to do this."
Homeland Security U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Nairobi Field Office Director Sonia Gulati said she has overseen these types of ceremonies for three years, and this was the first time she conducted one at Camp Lemonnier.
"Truly this is one of the best parts of my job - clearing individuals for citizenship who are so dedicated to America. I always end up with tears in my eyes," she said.
Both Lara and Scott said they left their respective countries for a higher quality living standard as well as education. The two men made serving in the military a top priority when they arrived in the United States and their service was appreciated by many in attendance today.
U.S. Navy Constructionman Aarron Emmons of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5, a friend of Scott, said he thinks immigrants are an asset to the military because of their dedication to America. Even though they are not yet citizens, they are willing to serve, he said.
Diversity "is part of the U.S. military's strength," said U.S. Navy Captain Gerry Hutchinson, Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa director of religious affairs. "To me it's great to have a military force that is diverse as the nation it defends."
Having other service members in attendance during the ceremony was meaningful to Lara, a native of Panama and a sergeant in C Battery, 1st Battalion 161st Field Artillery, Kansas Army National Guard.
"It feels good and I am happy," he said with a smile. "The people here are my brothers and sisters, and I am an American with them now."