Russ Bynum, AP, May 31, 2006
FORT STEWART, Ga. — Army Pvt. Ricardo Perilla’s first act as a U.S. citizen was to lead 42 of his fellow foreign-born soldiers in the Pledge of Allegiance, and he paid careful attention to each of its 31 words that many other Americans recite by rote.
“I almost forgot it, especially when I got excited,” Perilla, a 28-year-old native of Colombia, said Wednesday after the group of immigrant troops took their oath of citizenship. “It feels great. I never thought this was going to happen.”
Like Perilla, most of the 43 service members who took the oath worked for citizenship while fighting in Iraq last year with the Fort Stewart-based 3rd Infantry Division. They defended American freedoms and democratic principles before they could fully enjoy them.
More than 25,000 U.S. service members have become American citizens since President Bush ordered automatic citizenship eligibility for foreign nationals with wartime service in the armed forces on or after Sept. 11, 2001.
Those who were naturalized Wednesday at Fort Stewart came from 24 countries. One Navy sailor took the oath alongside the Army troops, most wearing dress uniform, in a Fort Stewart movie theater decorated with ceremonial flags for the citizenship service.