A proud day for citizen-soldiers

Their contributions strengthen our country

By The Mercury

It’s hard not to be impressed by the naturalization ceremony Wednesday on Fort Riley — the first such ceremony ever on post. And we suspect that the five soldiers, who have long since sworn to protect the United States, will treasure the memory all the more now that they can truly call themselves Americans.

We join Col. Craig Merutka, staff judge advocate for the First Infantry Division, in welcoming them as “United States citizens.”

The five are 1st Lt. Sonny Saleutogi, Pfc. Santos Iglesias, Spc. Hamder Meran Castillo, Spc. Harry Seymour and Pfc. Tonino Colby. They came from Haiti, El Salvador, the Federated States of Micronesia, American Samoa and the Dominican Republic.

Spc. Castillo, who was born in the Dominican Republic, has considered America his home since he came to this country with his father at age 10. Now married and the father of two children, he is proud to say his new citizenship “makes us better.” His new status, which brings with it the right to vote, also eliminates the need for him to check in with immigration officials every decade.

A cook at Fort Riley, Spc. Castillo’s dreams include opening his own business — a restaurant — when he leaves the Army.

Unlike most Americans, who are citizens by lucky accident of birth, these five men and others who become naturalized citizens earned the privilege and the rights that come with it.

Most applicants wait years, study and learn about our country and demonstrate that they will be assets to this country. Apart from the rest of the long process, these soldiers have demonstrated their commitment to this country by donning military uniforms and vowing to protect and defend it.

They aren’t just familiar with the rights of citizenship — rights so many of us take lightly — these soldiers are keenly aware of some of the responsibilities of citizenship.

As Major Martin O’Donnell, one of the post’s public affairs officers, pointed out, it’s easy for natural-born Americans to take their citizenship for granted. There’s no studying required and there are no tests to take.

“These guys are literally pledging themselves (to the United States), while many of us have that by default,” Major O’Donnell said. “People are fighting tooth and nail to do this, and shame on me for taking that for granted.”

“These guys” had to go through quite a learning process before they could be sworn in as U.S. citizens, but there is much those who were born here could learn from them.

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