46 become U.S. citizens in ceremony aboard Essex
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Trinol Von Mondaya sat quietly in his seat Friday on the flight deck of the USS Essex, his feet barely able to touch the ground.
His father, Petty Officer 1st Class Trinol Mondaya — a New Yorker stationed aboard the USS Germantown — beamed in his dress whites under overcast skies, facing an enormous American flag. The boy’s Filipina mother, Mabel, who is working on her Green Card, sat nearby.
The ceremony, in which the 7-year-old would become an American citizen, might have seemed like a formality to some who serve their adopted country prior to becoming a citizen, but to the first-grader born in the Philippines, it had real-world implications.
“It feels good,” the Trinol Mondaya said, looking lovingly toward his son. “He can go visit his grandparents in the States now.”
Friday’s ceremony saw 46 military spouses, dependent children, and active-duty servicemembers from 19 countries recite the Oath of Allegiance and become American citizens, said Kenneth Sherman, an official from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Thirty-five of those sworn in were sailors and Marines from Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.
The process of obtaining citizenship can be arduous and time-consuming, many of the new American citizens said. It includes testing as well as scrutiny of both their moral character and service records.
Lance Cpl. Mario Pierre Pierre said that despite coming to the United States from Haiti in 2009, he always felt American inside, but now it’s official.
“I am proud,” he said afterward. “I am happy.”
Two ceremonies were supposed to be held in March on Okinawa and at Yokosuka Naval Base but were postponed after the devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11, Sherman said. Once things calmed down, Friday’s ceremony was set up for Sasebo and Iwakuni personnel to spare families the stresses of travel, he said.
Sherman, whose team will hold a ceremony at Yokosuka on May 27, said the recent disaster showed military families living overseas the importance of citizenship should the need arise to evacuate to the United States. Family members who are not citizens are not awarded the same rights and protections as citizens, which can make travel more difficult, he said.
“I’m sure this is the right thing to do,” Sherman said. “These people deserve these benefits [of citizenship].”