KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan --
Most naturalization ceremonies for U.S. citizenship take place in locations such as Ellis Island, N.Y., or other national landmarks.
However, for service members deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, their ceremony took place at Kandahar Airfield.
Of the 96 service members present, four were Marines serving with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), and all participated in the ceremony to swear in as new U.S. citizens Jan. 29. These service members flew to Kandahar, where the Honorable Karl W. Eikenberry, ambassador to Afghanistan, and five other members of congress were present for the ceremony.
“As unusual as this place is, it is both inspiring and appropriate,” said Eikenberry, during his speech. “Many here are fellow Americans, military and civilian alike, working to assist the people of Afghanistan to defend and rebuild their country. Here we are engaged in this mission because this is what Americans do.”
Though each service members’ story is different, they all end the same way – with U.S. citizenship.
Lance Cpl. Roy Castro, an aircraft mechanic with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169, 3rd MAW (Fwd), was born and raised in the Philippine Islands until November 2000 when his father’s work moved the family to Guam.
In July 2009, Castro set foot in the continental U.S. for the first time to attend Marine Corps recruit training. He is currently on his first deployment to Afghanistan, earning his citizenship while serving the country he now calls home.
Cpl. Edgardo Ramirez-Luna, a Motor Transport vehicle operator with Marine Wing Support Squadron 373, 3rd MAW (Fwd), shares a similar story.
Ramirez-Luna lived in Mexico for the first two years of his life. His family decided to move to Houston, Texas, for better health care as Ramirez-Luna was a sickly child.
Ramirez-Luna joined the Marine Corps when he was 19 years old because he believed it was the best branch of service. He also knew the Corps could help him further his education and help with his naturalization process.
Becoming a U.S. citizen during a naturalization ceremony in Afghanistan was a memorable experience for him, explained Ramirez-Luna.
“I serve in the military and have spent most of my time overseas doing something great for my country,” Ramirez-Luna said. “It felt great having [my ceremony] in Afghanistan.”
For Cpl. Yevgeniy Levin, an airframes mechanic with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 362, 3rd MAW (Fwd), attending his naturalization ceremony at Kandahar Airfield held more personal significance to him.
Levin grew up in Moscow, Russia, and moved to the U.S. with his family at the age of 10.
“It’s pretty special because I have family ties here,” Levin said. “My dad was in Kandahar Airfield as an airframes mechanic in the Russian Army when Russia was here, and now I’m at [Camp] Bastion as an airframes mechanic and earned my U.S. citizenship at [Kandahar Airfield].”
The last Marine to receive his citizenship at the Kandahar Airfield ceremony wished his family could have attended, but also recognized the significance of an all-service member ceremony.
Sgt. Oscar Galindo-Barrios, an aviation electrician with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16, 3rd MAW (Fwd), was born in Mexico, but grew up in San Diego, Calif., from the age of four.
As a young child Galindo-Barrios watched military movies, which led him to join the Corps. At the age of 17, he enlisted and has been serving for the last eight years.
Galindo-Barrios’ parents received their citizenship just after his 18th birthday, requiring him to submit for citizenship on his own. Now, he is thankful to be called a citizen of the country he has spent so many years defending.
These four Marines are among many who have joined the military ranks and earned their citizenship, but are among the few to complete the process while serving in a deployed environment.
“As members of the [U.S.] military, each one of you has made a higher commitment to your country,” Eikenberry said. “Each one of you has volunteered to defend it – with your lives if necessary. It’s a privilege, then, to share this day with you. You who stand in defense of our freedom."