- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2006

NORFOLK (AP) — Sgt. Vasil Mencev has served five years in the U.S. Army, including a year in Iraq riding fuel-supply trucks in convoys near Baghdad and watching friends get injured by roadside bombs.

Yesterday, the Macedonia native and 145 other immigrants in the U.S. military became Americans in a Flag Day ceremony aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington at Norfolk Naval Station.

Emilio T. Gonzalez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, administered an oath of allegiance to the military members, who raised their right hands and promised to do something they’ve already done: defend America.

“With many of you already serving tours in combat, you’ve definitely earned your right to be here, standing tall as equal Americans,” Mr. Gonzalez told the new citizens as he stood before a giant American flag.

Serving in the military can reduce by years the time it takes to become a citizen since President Bush signed an executive order in 2002 making immigrants on active duty immediately eligible for naturalization.

More than 24,000 service members have become citizens since the order was signed, and there are more than 40,000 immigrants now in the military who are eligible to apply for naturalization, Mr. Gonzalez said.

The people sworn in as new Americans yesterday hail from 50 countries.

When Samuel Osei-Somuah, 31, joined the Navy about two years ago, he wasn’t thinking about becoming a citizen.

“All I wanted to do was to help, I mean to serve,” said the hospital corpsman who emigrated from Nkawkaw, Ghana, three years ago. He returned in March after seven months in Iraq taking care of wounded Marines in Fallujah. He is stationed at the Navy hospital in Portsmouth, Va.

“I feel great, especially after joining the Navy,” he said when asked about becoming an American. “I’ve been to so many places and I know I have been able to save a lot of lives, especially when I was in combat,” he said. “So I’m proud … of what I did.”

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