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Foreign-Born U.S. Sailors Take Oaths

May 2, 2003

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ After 44 sailors aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln returned from fighting for America in the Middle East, they had a special task awaiting: They became Americans.

The sailors from 16 countries took the oath of citizenship in a ceremony Thursday that underscored how the military has accommodated immigrants seeking naturalization by their adopted country.

Their applications were moved to the top of the pile thanks to an executive order President Bush signed in July ending a three-year wait required for military personnel to gain eligibility.

Rear Adm. Jose Luis Betancourt, himself a Mexican immigrant, told the new citizens his rise from humble origins to commander of the Navy’s Southwest region illustrates how the military can be a launching pad.

He spoke on a hilltop with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, San Diego Bay and the downtown skyline. An Iranian immigrant who became a citizen four months ago sang ``The Star-Spangled Banner.″

Sixteen of the new citizens were from the Philippines, six hailed from Mexico and the rest were from countries scattered around the globe, including Cuba, Ukraine, South Korea and Vietnam.

Among the new citizens sworn in Thursday, nearly one-fourth were women, compared to one in six in the military overall. Nearly half of the 44 sailors live in California.

About 37,000 non-citizens are in the military, or nearly 3 percent of the total. According to the Defense Department, 6,296 of them had applied for citizenship through April 15.

The new citizens had different reasons for joining the military: economic opportunity, job training, patriotism and adventure. Nonmilitary immigrants must wait five years until they are granted citizenship.

Sailor Ambrosio Luna, who moved to San Diego from Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1995, said he joined the military to gain a sense of belonging in his adopted country.

``I’m Mexican all the way, but I’m also an American until I die,″ he said. ``I respect this country. I want to be a part of it all the way.″

Seaman Philip Jones, who was born in Brazil and makes his home in Wenatchee, Wash., said he may seek a position in government or as a military officer _ jobs that would likely be off-limits if he weren’t a citizen.

Isisgema Doylet, a 20-year-old petty officer and the first American citizen in her family, said it was partly a sense of patriotism and partly wanderlust that prompted her to join the Navy. While on duty, she has seen Hawaii, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and Australia.

Doylet never imagined she would join the armed forces when she arrived in the United States in 1995. The military in her native Ecuador didn’t accept women.

``I didn’t think about joining because I was really girlie,″ said Doylet, whose nine-month deployment ended when she returned from war in the Middle East.

Petty Officer Philip Asmolov, had one small regret about becoming a citizen: the timing of the ceremony forced him to miss greeting Bush when he arrived aboard the Abraham Lincoln.

``You only get to see that guy once in your life, but I would rather be here,″ Asmolov said.


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