NAVAL AIR STATION SIGONELLA, Italy -- Sgt. Jeison Mendoza, a mortarman with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa, had a once in a lifetime opportunity to become a citizen of the United States while deployed to Tripoli, Libya, June 4, 2013.
In the crowded cockpit of a KC-130J Super Hercules, the Palmira, Colombia, native who came to the U.S. while still in grade school raised his right hand and repeated the oath of allegiance. It was the first time the ceremony had been performed in Libya since at least World War II. “It feels like I reached one of the biggest goals of my life,” said Mendoza, now a Port Jefferson, N.Y., resident. “I wanted to feel and become a proud American.”
A reserve Marine with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines out of Garden City, N.Y., Mendoza had both his citizenship and enlistment in the Marine Corps planned out years ago. “Since I was 12 I always admired the Marine Corps,” Mendoza said. “I was going to enlist when I turned 18 because I wanted to feel like a hero and make my mother proud.”
“She was the one that brought me here when I was little and she wanted something better for me; becoming a U.S. citizen has opened more paths in my life.” The oath of allegiance is a once in a lifetime event for those who choose to become a U.S. citizen. In this case, the same can be said for the one administering the oath. John Lafferty, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services district director for Africa, flew down with members of the Special-Purpose MAGTF Africa command to conduct the final interview, proctor a test on U.S. government and history and administer the oath of allegiance to Mendoza. “USCIS takes great pride in serving the members of the United States military,” Lafferty said. “We are prepared to go virtually anywhere in the world to provide this service.” Lafferty added that Mendoza’s interview and ceremony was the fastest he ever did, totaling 30 minutes. “As the son of a Marine, I considered it the ultimate honor to travel to Libya, surrounded by Sgt. Mendoza's fellow Marines, and swear him in as a new U.S. citizen in Tripoli, a location that has such great significance in the history of the Corps.” Lafferty has worked for USCIS for over 18 years and this was his final oath of allegiance.
“This ceremony on Libyan soil was an event that I will always remember and cherish. To be able to provide some service to this young man, who has come to Libya to protect his fellow Americans, even though he could not yet call himself a U.S. citizen, was truly humbling,” he said. Special-Purpose MAGTF Africa strengthens U.S. Marine Corps Forces Africa and U.S. Africa Command’s ability to assist partner nations. The approximately 150 U.S. Marines and Sailors conduct security force assistance, military-to-military engagements and are trained to provide support to crisis response.