11 soldiers become citizens at Stuttgart
STUTTGART, Germany — Yassel Alvarez first tried to go to the U.S. by boat. It didn’t work out, but the Cuban boy was just 10 years old. His time would come.
Ilker Irmak of Turkey met his future wife, a U.S. soldier, on Sept. 11, 2001. The Pond security guard was posted at a U.S. base in Kaiserslautern after the terrorist attacks, and so was she.
On Wednesday, Alvarez and Irmak and 10 others raised their right hands and became U.S. citizens during a ceremony in Stuttgart. The troops have been serving the country in the military. Now they can serve it as full-fledged Americans.
“I was shivering,” said Spc. Remlee Dela Cruz of Quezon City, Philippines. “When ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ began playing I was crying. But I was holding it in.
“At the end, it was like a different me. It was like being born again.”
At least two of the new citizens spent much of 2006 and 2007 pulling tough duty in Iraq.
Alvarez, an Army specialist, served 15 months with the Schweinfurt, Germany-based 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, patrolling Baghdad and performing raids alongside his American mates.
Alvarez plans to make use of his citizenship when he returns home to Miami.
“I always wanted to be a police officer or work on the border patrol,” he said. “But for any federal job, it (U.S. citizenship) is like the first requirement.”
The 24-year-old told of how his boat was intercepted off the Cuban coast, and how he and his father eventually went to Peru and then years later to the U.S. where his grandmother had become a citizen.
Spc. Mark Pagkalinawan spent 15 months in Ramadi, operating a recovery vehicle that would retrieve blown-up and otherwise disabled vehicles. He began his application for citizenship while in Iraq.
“I was there for Christmas, New Year’s and two birthdays,” said Pagkalinawan, also of Schweinfurt. “I think I deserve it.”
The event was organized by the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, which in 2007 naturalized 148 servicemembers. They had performed ceremonies in the past in Heidelberg and Kaiserslautern. On Feb. 6, the consulate swore in 13 new citizens during a ceremony in Vilseck.
The new U.S. citizens have rights now in addition to the right to fight for the country. They can vote, bring family members to the U.S. and travel with a U.S. passport. They also can apply for federal jobs and run for many elected offices. For those who aspire to certain jobs, their new citizenry enables them to qualify for security clearances.
At the Stuttgart ceremony, those who became citizens came from Sudan, Gambia, Haiti, Guyana and the Dominican Republic, among other places.
Spc. Son Kuykendall of the Republic of South Korea and 21st Theater Sustainment Command admitted to getting a little teary. She was accompanied by her husband, John, and their 4-year-old, Vance.
John was kept busy as his wife became a citizen.
“Mostly, I was just trying to keep him quiet,” John said of little Vance. “And keep him away from the cake.”