By Spc. Christopher M. Gaylord
Multi-National Corps - Iraq
On a day when Americans exercised an extremely important democratic right, 186 U. S. service members from across Iraq became U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony at Al Faw Palace on Camp Victory, Iraq, Nov. 4, 2008.
Gen. Ray Odierno, commanding general, Multi-National Force – Iraq, presided over the ceremony and expressed his sincere appreciation for each and every new U.S. citizen, and the significance of becoming a citizen.
“Diverse as your backgrounds may be, you all now have one thing in common: you are all Americans,” Odierno said. “You represent the very best of all that our nation stands for: freedom, opportunity, equality and service.”
The ceremony was the 12th of its kind to be held in Iraq, but, for many troops, took on special meaning, as it occurred on Election Day for U.S. citizens. The newly naturalized service members – from 60 different countries – have earned the right to vote for their new leaders.
“I’m excited to be able to vote,” said Spc. Ruth McKoy, supply specialist, 62nd Quartermaster Company, 553 Sustainment Brigade. “If something good comes out of a future election, I can say I had something to do with that. It’s like my voice is being heard now.”
McKoy, born in the West Indies, Jamaica, joined the Army in December 2002 and has since aspired to become an American citizen. After one unsuccessful application in Germany, McKoy decided to apply for citizenship a second time from Fort Hood, Texas, and finally achieved her goal.
For each and every new citizen, the ceremony was the chance of a lifetime, but words couldn’t fully explain the joy one servicemember felt.
Spc. Rasha Hennessy, linguist, 1st Higher Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 206th Field Artillery, 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, was born in Baghdad, just miles from where she took her oath of U.S. citizenship.
“Honestly, I can’t even think of how blessed I am to have this privilege,” Hennessy said. “It’s a great thing.”
Hennessy was ecstatic to receive her citizenship on such an important day for the U.S. and compared the freedoms she will have as a U. S. citizen to those under the Saddam regime years ago.
“It’s a really good opportunity to be able to vote freely and not live in fear,” Hennessy said.
Hennessy said she feels her job as a linguist is vital to the future of Iraq and the U.S., and in helping the two countries understand one another’s cultures to move forward in their partnership.
“I believe the translator has the ability to make things work for both sides,” Hennessy said. “When I interpret for [U.S. troops], it helps deliver the right message on why the U.S. is here in Iraq.”
Though these 186 service members are brand new U.S. citizens, many of them have always felt the unity all Americans feel when serving in the military, and realize every service member is fighting for a common goal.
“We all play a big part in what’s going on over here,” McKoy said. “We’re doing everything we can to help Iraq gain its democracy.”
In the end, each service member walked away with a new sense of pride: the pride of being an American citizen.