SUBIC BAY, Philippines (Oct. 31, 2011) – Eighteen Sailors became U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony on the flight deck of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) Oct. 31.
The service members are crew members of Essex and the amphibious transport dock ship USS Denver (LPD 9), which were in port in Subic Bay, Philippines as part of Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX).
A large crowd of friends, families and co-workers watched as the group took the U.S. oath of allegiance.
In quoting a speech from the ship’s sponsor Lynn Cheney, Capt. David Fluker, Essex commanding officer, said that these new citizens play an important role in helping provide for the defense of the nation.
“There is nothing inevitable about the path that brought us here,” said Fluker. “There is nothing inevitable about the future. The blessings that we enjoy are not merely a privilege, but a responsibility. We have to work at freedom and to defend it to keep our nation - and I would add also to keep others – safe and secure.”
The U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, the Honorable Harry Thomas Jr. spoke during the ceremony about how thankful he was for the Sailors’ military service. He said their citizenship was a significant achievement for those who had given so much to the country, and he was proud to be among the first people to welcome them as fellow citizens.
“You candidates assembled here today have been afforded the privilege of taking the oath of citizenship of the United States of America in a foreign land, in recognition of your faithful, dedicated, selfless and continuing honorable active duty military service to the United States of America,” said Thomas.
Cozettee Rousell-Barron, from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), read the names of the 12 countries the Sailors were from: the Philippines, Republic of China, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Japan, Lithuania, Thailand and Somalia.
Lt. Christopher Morris, Essex legal officer, expressed his gratitude for the support from the U.S. Embassy, USCIS and the Sailors and their families that helped coordinate the naturalization ceremony.
“It was great to see the support of not only the ambassador, but the upper chain of command as well,” said Morris. “The entire air department from USS Denver was also in attendance to support one of their Sailors who was being naturalized.”
Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Alejandra Gutierrezalba, from Essex supply department, said she was proud of her new citizenship.
“It feels great to say that I’m a U.S. citizen after being in the military for seven years,” she said. “I am originally from Mexico, but lived in the U.S. for 14 years before joining the military. I am proud to be a part of a country that has provided me an education and a better chance at life.”
Thomas also said the new citizens continue to serve as examples of the diversity that helps make America what it is today.
“You are examples of how America continues to attract people who enrich the fabric of our nation through your culture, traditions and sacrifices you are willing to make in service to our country,” Thomas said.
Essex is part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group and is currently conducting operations in the Western Pacific.