Leadership Journal

November 4, 2008

Iraq Naturalization Trip

Acting USCIS Director Scharfen welcomes new citizen during naturalization ceremony in Iraq. (Photo USCIS)
As you read this, I’m in the air over the Mediterranean Sea on my way home from the Middle East. I would like to share with you what I just experienced. In Baghdad, at one of the former Presidential Palaces, I had the distinct honor of naturalizing 186 men and women serving in uniform in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Many of these service members have seen extensive combat and have served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. During my tenure with USCIS, I’ve had the opportunity to naturalize soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in far reaching corners of the world from Afghanistan to Djibouti. As a veteran of our military, I know first-hand the sacrifices our nation’s veterans make to secure our freedoms. Since 2004, more than 6,000 service members have become U.S. citizens while stationed overseas – of that number 2,500 naturalized in Iraq. Their service is a constant source of inspiration.

As the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, there’s another part of this story that’s just as important to me. Every time I naturalize military service members overseas, USCIS employees have gone before me to conduct interviews. From the deserts of Iraq, to the mountains of Afghanistan, to the middle of the ocean aboard Navy ships, the men and women of USCIS leave the safety of their homes to volunteer to support our troops. As I fly back to the States, I’m thinking not only of the sacrifices of our service members, I’m also thinking about the sacrifices of the USCIS public servants I work with that made these naturalizations possible.

I’m proud of the work my team does to naturalize military service members who are fully eligible for citizenship. However, our goal is to eliminate the need for conducting overseas military naturalization ceremonies by working closely with the Department of Defense to speed up the processing of military naturalization cases. We want to ensure that every eligible service member raises his or her right hand and recites the Oath of Allegiance before overseas deployment. This will benefit these brave men and women as well as their families. It’s the least a grateful nation can do for the men and women of our armed forces who have volunteered to defend America even before they’ve become citizens.

Jonathan “Jock” Scharfen
Acting Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

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