PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. — Becoming part of the few and the proud left Pvt. Edson Machado sore and breathless.
But it was another oath that left the 27-year-old Marine nearly speechless.
"It's my pleasure to first address you as 'my fellow Americans,'" Kathy Redman, southeast regional director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told Machado and nine other Marines during a naturalization ceremony Thursday at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
Before family and friends, the nine trainees and one sergeant from 10 different countries raised their right hands to become the first group of Marines at Parris Island to become U.S. citizens.
The ceremony, held during Family Day before the Marines graduate from basic training today, was part of a recent expansion of a federal initiative to expedite citizenship for active-duty military personnel who are or will be deployed. The other military branches already participate in the initiative.
"When you pledged your commitment to the eagle, globe and anchor, you joined the newest generation of Marines," Redman said. "Now that you swore your oath to the United State of America, you've become our newest Americans."
Under the initiative, the government expedites the naturalization process on the military base so the recruit can graduate from basic training as an American. The process involves collecting application forms, conducting the naturalization interview and administering the Oath of Allegiance
Otherwise, they would wait years while being deployed and fighting for a country of which they aren't citizens, immigration services public affairs officer Sharon Scheidhauer said.
Former President George W. Bush signed an executive order in July 2002 authorizing all noncitizens who have served honorably in the U.S. armed forces on or after Sept. 11, 2001, to immediately file for citizenship. To qualify, a service member must be of good moral character, speak English and pass a U.S. civics and history test.
Since September 2002, more than 83,000 military members, including those in basic training and in 27 countries, have become citizens under the order, according to immigration service.
Machado left Brazil with his family at age 19, following his father's quest to seek out the American dream — to forge a better life for his family without worries of violence or poverty.
During the last seven years, the family struggled to gain citizenship. Machado's father and other relatives are still waiting and likely will for some time.
"As an immigrant, I took advantage of the American dream," Machado said. "I went to school. I learned the language. I learned the culture."
"I was able to prosper, and I wanted to pay that back," he said.
"You go through so much hard stuff through boot camp — difficult times where you want to give up — but you find inner strength to carry on," Machado said. "Graduation is like a light at the end of the tunnel. To add citizenship on top of that, it's like fireworks."
Pfc. Ghislaine Songong, 26 possessed a similar interest. At 19, she left Cameroon, joining her mother in Maryland to seek a brighter future. She graduated from the University of Maryland.
"At first, it was for me to do something challenging and get some great leadership training," Songong said. "Over time, even with my college degree, I felt I hadn't really accomplished something and wanted to serve this country that gave me so many opportunities."