By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason Tross, Navy Public Affairs Support Element-West, Det. Northwest
SEATTLE (NNS) -- Fourteen Soldiers, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen became U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony held aboard USS Port Royal (CG 73) during the Seattle Seafair Fleet Week's Parade of Ships Aug. 4 in Seattle.
Each took the Oath of U.S. Citizenship and pledged allegiance to the U.S. Constitution during the at-sea ceremony.
"This is a very special day for me," said Navy Culinary Specialist Seaman Yi Chen. "Becoming a U.S. citizen means so much. I've got so much more freedom in this country. Before I could not get the job I wanted here or go to other countries. Now I have more opportunities in the Navy too."
"Usually naturalization ceremonies happen in a courtroom or in a room with some kind of presiding official. This is a very unique way to do something special for our service members," said guest speaker Cmdr. Dan Jones, a Navy Reserve legal officer.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website, foreign service members may be eligible to apply for naturalization under special provisions outlined in the Immigration and Nationality Act.
"I can say that this process and the expedited [military] naturalization is a great recruiting tool and opportunity for our people and another great benefit of military service," said Jones.
Many people join the military for travel opportunities; Chen is no exception. Although Chen is a Sailor, this was his first time underway on a Navy ship. He and the other naturalizing service members were required to either stay stateside or in U.S. territories.
Non-citizen service members are also ineligible for officer commissioning programs, something two visiting Nepal-native U.S. Soldiers are now aiming for.
"Today's event is a big honor and opens up a new door for me," said Army Spc. Temba Sherpa. "Before I couldn't get the job I wanted. Even with a master's degree when I applied, I couldn't get it because I had to be a U.S. citizen. Now, after this and time in the Army, hopefully I can get those jobs or become an officer."
The USCIS naturalized more than 61,000 military members in ceremonies across the United States and in more than 20 countries since 2001. Military family members are also encouraged to take advantage of the expedited naturalization services offered by USCIS. More than 700 have done so since 2008 in Bulgaria, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Oman, Panama, South Korea, Spain, Thailand and the United Kingdom.