“For all of you, the oath of citizenship is more than a formality. And today, America is more than your home; it’s your country. This is one of the things that makes our country so unique. With a single oath, all at once you become as fully American as the most direct descendant of a founding father.” – President George W. Bush.
Lance Cpl. Evan Eskharia, a basic water systems technician with Marine Wing Support Squadron 374, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), received his United States citizenship during a naturalization ceremony at al-Faw Palace, Baghdad, April 12.
Receiving his U.S. citizenship in the war-torn country of his birth represents the culmination of his family’s determination and will to flee an oppressive regime and seek the freedoms and opportunities only offered in America.
“This is in my top three proudest days of my life,” said Eskharia, who lived in El Cajon, Calif., prior to joining the Marine Corps. “It’s up there with the birth of my son and receiving my eagle, globe and anchor.”
The naturalization ceremony was the largest outside the United States, with 259 service members from 71 different countries receiving their citizenship.
“It’s that feeling in your heart, that now you’re a U.S. citizen; it feels really good,” Eskharia added.
When Eskharia was 9 years old, he and his family fled Iraq to Turkey due to Saddam Hussein’s oppressive regime. At the time, when an Iraqi boy turned 16, he would be drafted into the Iraqi military. Having five male children, Eskharia’s mother and father decided they would rather leave the country than see their children become a part of Saddam’s tyranny.
“It was very difficult for my parents to leave everything behind,” explained Eskharia. “My parents wanted us to have a better life and better opportunities, so we left.”
Once the Eskharia family reached Turkey, the Turkish government placed them in a refugee camp in Istanbul for more than three years.
Eskharia remembers his time in the refugee camp as difficult; his family treated horribly, with clean water scarce, very little liberty to go outside and living with nine to 10 people in rooms built for three.
In 1993, the Eskharias applied for and received a green card from the United States. The family moved to California and started a new life as so many immigrants have done before them.
Even though the time in Turkey was hard for the Eskharia family, it made coming to the United States and enjoying the freedom afforded to Americans well worth it.
To repay the country who took he and his family in, Eskharia made a decision few American citizens and even fewer immigrants make – to join the United States Marine Corps.
“He’s (Eskharia) put in a lot of hard work to get into the Marine Corps and to get his naturalization,” said Eskharia’s brother-in-law, Sgt. Wendall F. Anderson, special intelligence systems administrator, MWSS-373, 3rd MAW (Fwd). “He feels that since America took him and his family in, he owes America a debt of gratitude and that’s why he joined the Marine Corps.”
While in the Marine Corps, Eskharia used his newfound brotherhood as a support system while applying for citizenship.
“It is a great feeling knowing you have the backup and support of the Marine Corps,” said Eskharia. “They are always there for help.”
Through deploying with the Marine Corps, Eskharia found himself back in the country of his birth.
“It feels good knowing that I can contribute to Iraq,” said Eskharia. “I do speak Arabic, not fluently, but I can still understand what people say and if Iraqis have a question, I can help them out and try to explain what is going on.”
Though a lot has changed in the last 15 years, being in Iraq has brought back some childhood memories.
Currently stationed at al-Taqaddum, Eskharia remembers Lake Habbaniyah where he, his father and two brothers used to fish and swim.
“We drove by Lake Habbaniyah the other day and I was like, ‘Huh, I remember this lake,’” said Eskharia. “I remember the hills around there, but there is a lot of barbed wire and fences now that weren’t there before. It’s a lot different now.”
Conquering one of his life goals, Eskharia stays focused on his future. Speaking Aramaic, and with his knowledge of Arabic, Eskharia would like to go to military linguist school in Monterey, Calif., to hone his Arabic language skills and become a linguist for the Marine Corps.
“I feel he makes a great Marine; he’s a good person, a good father, a good husband and a good brother,” said Anderson, a Buffalo, Mo., native. “I think this is well deserved.”
“In my heart, this is what I’ve always wanted to do,” explained Eskharia. “I’ve wanted to be a U.S. citizen ever since we came to the states from Baghdad. It’s very important to me because it’s an accomplishment and an achievement in my life.”