MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - --
Service members pledge to support and defend the constitution when they enlist or reenlist into military service. Some, however, do this for a country they are not yet citizens of, but many of them were recently afforded an opportunity to swear another oath with a similar message.
More than 40 Marines, sailors and family members from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and neighboring installations took part in a naturalization ceremony to swear to the oath of allegiance to become citizens of the United States of America at the Russell Marine and Family Center aboard MCB Lejeune.
Ranging from more than 20 countries, the candidates went through an expedited naturalization process due to their military affiliation. They filled out applications, went to interviews, demonstrated good moral character, demonstrated knowledge of the English language and general U.S. civics knowledge, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
“These candidates feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to the U.S.,” said Mitzi Lanier, the immigration coordinator with the office of the Staff Judge Advocate on base. “(Some people) take their citizenship for granted. (The new citizens) don’t. They’ve earned it.”
Last fiscal year, more than 10,000 service members were naturalized, with a couple of hundred naturalized this fiscal year.
Pfc. Dannieth Ellis Davis, a supply administrator with Marine Wing Support Squadron 271, from Jamaica, already feels at home in America.
“I’ve been doing everything a citizen does,” said Davis.
To add another element to an already special day, the event was held on the Marine Corps birthday.
“It’s pretty exciting. You’re celebrating two special events at once,” said LCpl. Edher Baranda, an airframe mechanic with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266, who is from Tijuana, Mexico.
Guest speaker, Jeffrey Sapko, the director of the Raleigh-Durham field office of USCIS, spoke about how he became involved with immigration. As a former soldier, he was stationed overseas where he witnessed people who could not travel or vote due to their countries’ regulations.
“I could do all of those things,” he said. “And I had an obligation to make sure others could too.”
He admires service members, those who defended the rights they may not be able to partake in.
“Today, we celebrate you who stand up to defend the rights we take for granted,” said Sapko in a speech during the ceremony. “Having this today is the least we could do. It’s our privilege to welcome you to our country. You’ve already earned it, this is just a formality.”