SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - 11 trainees and one sergeant officially became U.S. citizens on Thursday at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, just one day before their graduation from basic training.
"I'm a Marine and a United States citizen at the same time. It's so special for me," Pvt. Diener Pena said.
Pena, originally from Cuba, could barely contain his excitement. His family came to Parris Island from Miami for the ceremony, and his mother says this goal is years in the making.
"I brought my son to this country at the age of 14 and since day one that he got here he wanted to be a Marine," Regla Pena said.
She's also proud of the unity in the military.
"It's beautiful to see how families and different countries, everybody comes together for one day."
Pfc. Ghislaine Songong from Cameroon called the moment surreal.
"I've been living in the United States for almost seven years, and I always felt like I was home, but today I can definitely say that I'm home."
But for some, the journey hasn't been that easy.
Pvt. Marleni Cruz-Carranza is only 18 years old, and said it's been difficult being away from her family. Despite this, the Hondoras native said the distance was worth it.
"It feels like I've worked so hard, and I've earned it."
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Department administered the Oath of Allegiance to those Marines, and this is part of a new initiative to make sure all recruits can graduate from basic training as U.S. citizens.