BAGHDAD, Iraq — Hundreds of troops gathered at Al Faw Palace for the Multi-National Force-Iraq Reenlistment, Naturalization and Independence Day Ceremony July 4 at Camp Victory.
During the ceremony, 588 troops re-enlisted and 161 were naturalized as American citizens. Army Gen. David Petraeus, commanding general, MNF-I, gave opening remarks before administering the Oath of Enlistment.
“In 1777, the Stars and Stripes became our nation’s national colors, and over time as people the world over saw the red, white and blue of our flag, they recalled the freedom, liberty and equality for which our country stands, for which generations of Americans in uniform have sacrificed, and for which we continue to fight today,” Petraeus said. “The Stars and Stripes sustained the spirit of our Army through the terrible winter at Valley Forge, and our flag has inspired us ever since.”
The flag can now be seen in helicopters and Humvees, on aircraft carriers and fighter jets, and in tactical operation centers in combat outposts. Petraeus said troops wear the flag on their uniforms, bear it in their hearts and fight for it.
“This morning we pay tribute to the American ideals we all hold so dear in several significant ways,” he said. “First, by conducting what surely is the largest re-enlistment event ever held in Iraq and perhaps in our armed forces’ history, then by celebrating the granting of American citizenship to a group of troopers who have already pledged their loyalty to our nation by putting their lives on the line for it, and finally by observing the 231st birthday of our great country.”
Petraeus said the troops who re-enlisted on Independence Day, most while serving on a second or third deployment to a combat zone, have made a decision based on far more than any bonus they may receive.
“No bonus, no matter the size, can adequately compensate you for the contribution each of you has made and continues to make as a custodian of our nation’s defenses,” he said. “Nor can any amount of money compensate you adequately for the sacrifices you make serving here in Iraq or the burdens your loved ones face at home in your absence. And we certainly cannot put a price on the freedoms you defend or those we are trying to help the Iraqis establish and safeguard here in the land of the two rivers.”
Petraeus then dedicated the Independence Day ceremony in honor of two soldiers who died fighting for America before they could be sworn in as citizens.
“Sgt. Kimel Watt and Spc. Farid Elazzouzi, who would have been in your ranks here this morning, were lost in recent combat action, giving the last full measure of devotion for a country that would have become fully theirs today,” Petraeus said. “Words cannot express the admiration I feel for these two men or the sadness I feel for our nation’s loss and their families’ sacrifice.”
Petraeus said the deaths are reminders that freedom comes at a very high cost, which must never be forgotten. Like these two soldiers, who fought and died with the American flag on their shoulders, he said the troops being naturalized as U.S. citizens were most deserving.
“When you enlisted into the armed forces you swore to support and defend (the) Constitution that did not yet fully apply to you,” Petraeus said. “You chose to endure the same sacrifices as your fellow comrades in arms to preserve the freedom of a land that was not yet fully yours. You accepted that you might have to pay the ultimate price on behalf of a nation to which you did not fully belong. Now, you will officially become citizens of the United States, a country to which each of you has already borne true faith and allegiance in your hearts and your deeds.”
Army Pfc. Yaremi Boza, a human resources specialist with the 260th Military Intelligence Battalion, is one of those citizens. She migrated from Cuba to Florida as a child in 1995 and believes the Independence Day ceremony opened a lot of doors for her as an American citizen.
“I’m glad that I can be here to get my citizenship,” she said. “It means being able to take care of myself and my family and having lots of opportunities and windows open. It’s a great feeling to know at the end of the day that you’re a part of the country you’re fighting for.”
Jonathan Scharfen, the deputy director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, administered the Oath of Citizenship to the new U.S. citizens, and Arizona Sen. John McCain provided congratulatory remarks on behalf of the U.S. Senate.
“I know it’s not possible for even the most grateful nation to compensate you in kind for the measure of devotion that you have with great personal sacrifice given our country,” McCain said. “We have incurred a debt to you that we can never repay in full. We can offer you only the small tribute of our humility.”
The senator said that when a nation goes to war, a million tragedies ensue. War is a terrible thing, but McCain said it is not the worst thing.
“You know that you who have endured the dangers and deprivations of war so that the worst thing would not befall us, so that America might be secure in our freedom,” he said. “As you know, the war in which you have fought has divided the American people. But it has divided no American in their admiration for you. We all honor you.”
McCainís remarks were followed by the Pledge of Allegiance led by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, and the ceremony concluded with recognition of all 50 states in America.
Kent is a reporter with Multi-National Corps-Iraq Public Affairs