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USCIS naturalizes 98 service members in Kandahar, Afghanistan

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Three officers from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) district office in Bangkok, Thailand, traveled to Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan to naturalize 98 soldiers, sailors and Marines during a ceremony on Jan. 29. The USCIS team, led by Bangkok District Director Robert Looney, included officers Traci Piccian and Leah Van Wilgen.
 

98 new U.S. citizens after their naturalization ceremony in Kandahar, Afghanistan with U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James L. Terry; Karl W. Eikenberry, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan; Congressman Darrell Issa; and Robert Looney, USCIS Bangkok District Director. (Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.)
98 new U.S. citizens after their naturalization ceremony in Kandahar, Afghanistan with U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James L. Terry; Karl W. Eikenberry, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan; Congressman Darrell Issa; and Robert Looney, USCIS Bangkok District Director. (Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.)


While USCIS officers regularly travel to military installations worldwide to provide immigration services to members of the armed forces, this is only the second time they have been to Kandahar Airfield, which is close to the front lines. The experience was one the USCIS officers will never forget.

Once there, they reviewed each candidate’s naturalization application package, and administered the naturalization test and interviewed each candidate.

 

 

Marine Cpl. Yevgeniy Levin receives his Certificate of Naturalization from Robert Looney, USCIS Bangkok District Director during a naturalization ceremony on Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on Jan. 29. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corp)

 

 

Marine Cpl. Yevgeniy Levin receives his Certificate of Naturalization from Robert Looney, USCIS Bangkok District Director during a naturalization ceremony on Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on Jan. 29. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corp)


The compelling stories of service and personal courage heard during those interviews continue to resonate with the USCIS officers.

They learned that four of the new citizens have received the Purple Heart for wounds they received while deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Army Spc. Abdirahman Mohammed Abdul, who came to the United States as a refugee from Somalia as a child, proudly brought his Purple Heart medal to the naturalization interview.

The USCIS officers also learned that many of the new citizens have served multiple deployments in Afghanistan or Iraq; in fact, several are on their third deployment, and one – Army Sgt. Jaime Adame, a native of Mexico, has been deployed four times.

During the naturalization ceremony, hosted by the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, District Director Looney thanked the service members and reiterated the USCIS commitment to provide exceptional access to immigration services to all members of the military, whether they serve stateside or on the front lines in Afghanistan.

 

 

Servicemembers placed their weapons underneath their seats during the USCIS naturalization ceremony held Jan. 29 on Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force)

 

 

Service members placed their weapons underneath their seats during the USCIS naturalization ceremony held Jan. 29 on Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force)
 

Also participating in the ceremony was U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl W. Eikenberry, who said he was honored to share the day with the new citizens. He said that their demonstrated commitment and character has earned them the respect and gratitude of the United States of America.

Also in attendance was a delegation of six U.S. congressmen in Afghanistan to visit with the U.S. military and meet with members of the Afghan government. They included Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Rep. Brian Higgins of New York, Rep. Darryl Issa of California, Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, and Rep. Todd Platts of Pennsylvania.

Since 2004, when the first naturalization ceremony was held overseas, USCIS has naturalized 885 members of the U.S. armed forces deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.