Thousands of miles away from home, two Fort Drum soldiers became American citizens in Afghanistan.
The two 10th Mountain Division soldiers, Spc. Khun Hein and Sgt. Jennifer Santos-Bryant, were among the 11 servicemembers attaining their citizenship Wednesday at a naturalization ceremony at Bagram Airfield, listed as one of the last such ceremonies to take place before the deadline for major American activity in the country to cease at the end of 2014.
Spc. Hein, originally from Burma, first came to the U.S. with his family in 2008, settling in the Fort Wayne, Ind., area. He joined the Army in July 2012, and now serves as a truck driver with the G Company, 710th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
“This is going to be my favorite, very special day,” he said. “It’s going to be a very big step in my life. I’m really excited about it.”
Comments from the two soldiers, along with remarks from the ceremony, were distributed through the Regional Command-East public affairs office.
Spc. Hein said his family, which includes five siblings, initially was concerned he would not be able to serve because of his troubles learning English. Since he has joined, he said, his family has been proud of him, and they supported his new citizenship. He is only the second member of his family to become a U.S. citizen.
With his new citizenship, he said, he looked forward to pursuing his dreams, along with more routine parts of citizenship such as voting.
“I have more opportunities to do everything,” he said.
The second division soldier naturalizing Wednesday, Sgt. Jennifer Santos-Bryant, serves as an automated logistical specialist with the 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery, 3rd Brigade Combat Team. Originally from Mexico, Sgt. Santos-Bryant grew up in Los Angeles, Calif.
She had a special surprise during the day: Her husband, Sgt. Jason Bryant, also deployed with the division’s 3rd Brigade, flew in specially for the ceremony from his forward operating base south of Bagram.
“I didn’t expect him to be here,” she said.
P. Michael McKinley, the deputy U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, told the new citizens at the ceremony they were making history with their service.
“Your children and grandchildren will open a textbook one day to learn how you contributed to America’s freedom and security, as well as to that of Afghanistan, a country that is rebuilding after more than 30 years of conflict,” he said.
Other countries represented at the naturalization ceremony were Liberia, Philippines, Nigeria, Channel Islands and Trinidad and Tobago.
Since September 2002, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has naturalized 89,095 members of the military, with 10,719 of the service members becoming citizens in 28 different countries outside of America, according to internal statistics.