FORWARD OPERATING BASE SMART, Afghanistan -- After rigorous interviews, background checks and testing, 44 Soldiers representing 24 different countries of origin completed the process of naturalization and stood together in Afghanistan to take the oath of U.S. citizenship.
"What is so honorable to me is that before being granted the benefits, you accepted the cost," said Stephen G. McFarland, the U.S. embassy's coordinating director for rule of law and law enforcement.
The process to become a U.S. citizen is not an easy one. There are many applicants throughout the military. In southern Afghanistan, there are two ceremonies for service each year.
One of the new citizens is Pfc. Berald Escribano, a 22-year-old infantryman from Kodiak, Alaska, who is currently attached to Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul. Escribano immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in 1999 with his family and completed his schooling in Alaska.
"I've already done so much in my life, like joining the National Guard, but I know that this will make a big difference," Escribano said. "I will have more opportunities for work and education and, most importantly, I will finally get to have a voice during the election."
The desire to vote is what pushed Escribano to pursue his citizenship more vigorously.
"During elections, my friends would ask who I was supporting and I would just defer or avoid the question," he reflected before the ceremony. "But now I can answer truthfully and cast a vote in the upcoming election."
For Escribano, he had a mentor and guide, his company first sergeant, 1st Sgt. Stephen Blair.
"We started the process during mobilization, and it was a lot of paperwork and following up," said Blair. "But it was well worth it, to be able to get this done for him."
Both Soldiers are members of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne) based in Alaska. Escribano has been a part of the unit for just over a year and knows that his decision to serve was as important as his decision to naturalize.
"My family already looks up to me because of my education and then my status as a U.S. Soldier," Escribano said. "But now, I feel like I will be a model to both my siblings and my parents, for them to move forward and become citizens of the only country we think of as home."
When asked what his favorite part of the process was, it wasn't the oath or ceremony.
"I loved preparing for the test," Escribano said after the certificate was already in hand.
"Studying with the guys, learning more about our government and our country, and knowing I had the whole team pulling for me, this feels more like a group celebration than it does an individual accomplishment. So many people put hard work into making sure I was ready."
Escribano said his first sergeant who helped him with the paperwork, and his teammates who helped quiz him for the citizenship test.
"I think this is an accomplishment for us all," he said.
Naturalized June 29, 2012, just before Independence Day, Escribano rejoined his team with roughly four months until they begin their rotation home. The opportunity and ceremony was an achievement for the service members who worked so hard to achieve their goal of citizenship, which also means a vote in the upcoming election.
As the ambassador said, "a benefit they had already paid the price for."