Dozens Naturalized at Fort Stewart Ceremony - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

06/01/06

Dozens Naturalized at Fort Stewart Ceremony

Serving our country in the military is nothing new. But what if you weren't even an American citizen? It's amazing, but true. Dozens of immigrants enlisted in the Army and served in Fort Stewart's Third Infantry Division in Iraq.

Yesterday, they became American citizens. Recent changes in our immigration and nationality laws make it easier for foreign nationals serving during times of war to become US citizens.

They swore an oath to protect and serve the United States in Army. Yesterday, they took a new oath, claiming the US as their own country.

"I was very nervous," said Sgt. Brendan Brathwaite. "I had a couple of butterflies in my stomach, but it meant a lot to me, to be an American citizen."

Sgt. Brathwaite has waited a long time for this. The Trinidad native, with the 512th Quartermaster Company at Hunter Army Airfield, is one of 43 servicemen and -women celebrating their new American citizenship.

"It means a lot to me, because I was having a hard time before I came into the military," he said. "For the Army to help me get my citizenship, it means a lot to me."

By serving in the military during times of conflict, men and women like Sgt. Brathwaite can get on the fast track to becoming US citizens.

Last year, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services Office naturalized 7,000 servicemen and -women at military bases like Fort Stewart around the world. Maj. Gen. William Webster says it's only fitting these men and women should enjoy the benefits of American citizenship.

"As soldiers and sailors in these armed forces, you understand more than most what citizenship in this country really means," he told them during the ceremony.

"These great men and women have already served our nation," the general later told us. "Some of them have been to combat three times: Desert Storm, in one case, as well as going to Iraq at least once and some of them, twice. The are some of America's best and it's wonderful now to welcome them in as new citizens of the United States."

For their families, it is a wonderful step forward in promising careers and futures.

"It's been a long time, so it's like a dream come true," said Shreeta Brathwaite, Sgt. Brathwaite's wife. "I really haven't seeped it all in. I'm still nervous and shocked."

"It means a lot to me. It helps me further my military career," Sgt. Brathwaite said. "It's a big accomplishment and a big step for me to be an American citizen."

As for Shreeta: "I'm very proud of him, very proud. Extremely proud of him."

Forty-two soldiers and one Navy sailor from 24 different countries became American citizens yesterday afternoon at Fort Stewart.

Since President Bush signed the order bypassing the waiting period for foreign nationals serving in the American military to become US citizens, more than 25,000 have been naturalized.

Reported by: Liz Flynn, lflynn@wtoc.com

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