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European edition, Friday, September 7, 2007

Three years in the making, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Jay Ablog has realized his dream. Now, when anyone asks about his citizenship, he can respond, “U.S.”

“I want to be part of the greatest country there is, the most powerful,” the 27-year-old fuels aviation boatswain’s mate — the guy who refuels jet planes — said when asked why he sought to trade in his Philippine nationality.

At 17, he and his family moved from the a small farming and fishing town in the Philippines to Scranton, Calif., to live with his uncle, “where there were better opportunities” to make a good life, said Ablog, one of six U.S. sailors naturalized during a ceremony Tuesday at Naval Station Rota, Spain.

And just before his 18th birthday — getting the blessings and a waiver approval from his parents — he joined the U.S. Navy. “I joined to get a better education … and somehow along the way, I started liking it.”

There are about 34,000 non-U.S. citizens serving in the U.S. military, with the most in the Navy at 14,000, according to a Navy news release.

The base in southern Spain averages about one naturalization ceremony a year, with seven sailors naturalized in May 2006 and a dozen in September 2005, base spokesman Lt. Michael Morley said.

“The ceremony, no matter how small it is, is going to be significant in each of their lives because today (Tuesday) they will renounce their legion from their birth country and pledge allegiance to their new country,” said Navy Capt. Earl Hampton Jr., commander of Naval Station Rota.

“[T]oday, now you’re part of a greater nation that has a greater standard and a higher idea to try and make this a better world,” said Hampton, born in Olongapo City, Philippines, who also is a naturalized U.S. citizen.

A 2002 change in the naturalization law put servicemembers seeking citizenship on a fast track if the nation is at war. In July 2002, President Bush declared all people serving honorably in any of the five armed forces branches could apply for citizenship, regardless of how long they have been a U.S. resident. A 2004 change allows the oath of allegiance to be administered at overseas military installations and made the entire process free.


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