KAHANDAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan -- American service members became citizens of the country they serve during a naturalization ceremony here, Oct. 1.
The group of about 90 service members including three Marines from 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward): Cpl. Jordan A. O’Hearn, a combat engineer, with Alpha Company, 9th Engineer Support Battalion; Lance Cpl. Jesus D. Sanchez, a heavy equipment operator with Headquarters and Support Co., 9th ESB; and Lance Cpl. Alberto A. Navarretewabi, a motor transport operator with Combat Logistics Regiment 15 (Forward).
O’Hearn, 24, moved to Michigan from Australia when he was a toddler, because his dad, a physical therapist, got a job in the United States O’Hearn joined the Marine Corps less than a month after graduating high school.
"All my friends were going to college," said O’Hearn. "I wanted to do something a little less mainstream, so I decided to join the military."
Overall, O’Hearn and the other service members are proud that they are citizens of the country they fight for.
"I’ve pretty much lived in America all my life," said O’Hearn, "So it’s good for me to finally be a citizen."
All of the service members at the ceremony had different and interesting stories. For Sanchez, becoming a citizen has been a long road. Sanchez and his family moved to the United States from Michoacán, Mexico when he was 13.
"There was no future for us in Mexico," said Sanchez, 20, from Worthington, Minn. "There were a lot of drug cartels, and we were better off in the states."
When his family arrived in Minnesota, Sanchez got a job in construction even though he was still a minor.
"I started working in construction right after we moved," said Sanchez. "I was helping to support my family when I was 13."
He joined the Marine Corps when he was 18, because he wanted to be one of America’s finest.
"I heard it was the best branch," said Sanchez. "I wanted to be a part of that."
Navarretewabi, 26, moved to Yuma, Ariz., from Managua, Nicaragua, when he was two years old.
"After my father died," said Navarretewabi, "my mom wanted a better life for
Before the Marine Corps, Navarretewabi worked at his local grocery store as a night stocker and cashier. Navarretewabi joined the Marine Corps looking for a chance to travel, an opportunity his old job didn’t give him.
"For me, the Marine Corps has been enjoyable," said Navarretewabi. "I joined to travel, and hopefully I’ll have chances to go outside the wire and see Afghanistan."
Today, the service members stand proud to be citizens of the country they protect.
"For me and my family, it means a lot of honor," said Navarretewabi. "Especially because I’m already in the Marine Corps."
Although this was the first naturalization ceremony held at Kandahar Air Field, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services have naturalized more than 8,000 members of the military overseas and more than 63,000 service members in total since 2001, according to their web site.
After the events of Sept. 11, legislation was passed under the Immigration and Nationality Act: Act 329, making it possible for service members who have been honorably discharged or are currently serving under honorable conditions, to receive their citizenship.
Under the current law, any service member who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan may apply.
"If a service member serves for one day during a period of hostilities, they are eligible," said Capt. Lisa S. Woo, legal assistance attorney, Headquarters and Service Co., 1st MLG (Forward).
Although the preceding act established in 1952, INA: Act 328, and the current law have some similarities, the modifications introduced are making it even easier for service members to become citizens. The most notable difference between the new law and the old law is the requirement to have spent five years living in the United States before applying, a task difficult for those stationed overseas. Now under the new act, that stipulation is relinquished.
"For Marines applying under INA: Act 329," said Woo, from Pleasant Hill, Calif. "The law waives the residency requirement to be in the United States."
For Marines in Afghanistan who would like to take advantage of this opportunity, contact Sgt. Brandon J. Collins, legal clerk, at 357-2623. For Marines in the states, please contact your legal office on base.