FORT LEWIS — They served and fought for a country that wasn't their own.
On Monday afternoon, eight Fort Lewis soldiers and the wife of an officer assigned to the Army post raised their right hands to change that. They repeated the oath to become United States citizens.
"I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law," they repeated in unison as part of the oath.
Six of the eight soldiers either have deployed, some more than once, or will deploy next month.
"You've earned your citizenship already, almost to the point that this ceremony seems trite," said Emilio Gonzalez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, who attended the ceremony. Gonzalez is a naturalized U.S. citizen from Cuba and spent 26 years in the U.S. Army.
Non-citizens can enlist in the military if they hold a green card; officers must be U.S. citizens.
Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, more than 35,000 members of the armed forces have become U.S. citizens.
About 40,000 service members who serve in uniform aren't citizens in the United States, Gonzalez said.
Sgt. William John Hare, 28, is a native of Canada who joined the U.S. Army in the wake of 9/11 and has deployed three times in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
For him, becoming a U.S. citizen has been a long road. He has sought citizenship for several years. His application during his second tour in Iraq was lost in the mail.
This time he followed up with personal visits to the local Homeland Security office.
During a recent visit, he watched one of his soldiers take the oath to become an American citizen before he could take his own.
"To be able to finally vote is the biggest thing I'm looking forward to," he said.
Sgt. Marson Albert Soaladaob, 38, emigrated to the United States 15 years ago from the tiny island nation of Palau, located southeast of the Philippines.
He said he is proud of his accomplishment but feels very much the same as before.
"It doesn't change when I become a citizen," he said. "I'm still going to go out there and do my job."
Citizenship has been award posthumously to 105 U.S. service members.
That tally includes Cpl. Juan M. Alcantara, a 22-year-old New Yorker who was one of four Fort Lewis soldiers killed by insurgents near the end of their 15-month deployment in August.
On Sept. 17, Citizenship Day, his family accepted his certificate of posthumous citizenship for Alcantara, who emigrated from the Dominican Republic.
At the ceremony, Gonzalez said it was a somber task to sign certificates of posthumous citizenship knowing the individual will never be able to enjoy the benefits of being a newly minted American.
After they took their oaths, the soldiers watched a congratulatory videotaped message from their commander-in-chief. "Today, the U.S. is not only your home, it's your country," President Bush said.
Christian Hill covers the city of Lacey and military for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.