CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world, but the Marines don’t have that problem.” Those words spoken by our late president, Ronald Reagan, rang true during a naturalization ceremony held aboard Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Feb. 26, where seven Marines were granted their United States citizenship.
“I’ve wanted to be a Marine since I was a kid,” said Sgt. Antoine S. Diop, customer service specialist with Combat Logistics Battalion 7. “I would watch movies that had the U.S. Marines in them, and I knew I would be one of them one day when I grew up.”
Diop was born in Oulouse, France. He grew up in a family whose history was strong and dedicated to serving one’s country with his great-grandfather serving in World War I and World War II with the French Army, and his grandfather serving in Vietnam with French Special Operations. Diop was 12 years old when he came to the U.S. settling in Atlanta, and during the ceremony he happily gave up his French citizenship to completely fulfill his American dream.
“It is an awesome feeling to officially become a U.S. citizen,” said Diop. “It has definitely been a long time coming. It feels even better having the ceremony while being deployed because I have this sense of accomplishment and belonging.”
Lance Cpl. Rodman Swanson is a dog handler and rifleman with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, from Seattle. Swanson, who was previously a citizen of Palau, a Micronesia country located in the Pacific, said he initially joined the Marine Corps to defend America against terrorism. He has served four years in the Marine Corps and deployed on two combat tours.
“This was important to me because I have been shot at many times by insurgents, and I figured if I’m willing to put my life on the line for this country, I should be a citizen of it,” said Swanson. “It’s also important to participate in your government, and being a good citizen means making America a better place through doing your duties.”
Lance Cpl. Javier Blanco, an automatic rifleman with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, from Houston and a previous citizen of Cuba, said when he was a child, his father was serving as a high-ranking officer in Cuba when they planned to leave the country. His family made a raft out of beds, wood and a motorcycle engine. As they were trying to make their way to the U.S., they were caught by the U.S. Coast Guard and sent to Guantanamo Bay. Later they were released when Blanco’s mother’s church in the United States claimed them. Many years later, Blanco met a Marine Corps recruiter who had emigrated from Mexico and earned his citizenship through joining the military.
“I wanted to help my family and open the door of opportunities in the land of opportunities,” said Blanco. “I’m happy that I was given the chance to gain my citizenship and fight for my country at the same time.”
The ceremony was organized and hosted by 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. Captain Henry R. Bouchot, battalion judge advocate, from Los Angeles, said he feels great to be a conduit for these Marines to accomplish their dream of becoming U.S. citizens.
“I wanted to do this because I felt it was my duty as a Marine to take care of other Marines, and helping them become citizens was a way that I could take care of my Marines,” said Bouchot. “Now these guys will be able to provide a great contribution to our country.”
The group of America’s newest citizens also included Cpl. Khamphong Phomphansy, the supply warehouse chief with 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, from Salina, Kan., and previous citizen of Laos; Sgt. Jose Diaz, the motor transportation operations chief with 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, from Stone Park, Ill., and previous citizen of Mexico; Lance Cpl. Luis Ortiz, a wireman with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment from Atlantic City, N.J., and previous citizen of Mexico; and Sgt. Adam Guzik, a helicopter/tilt-rotor dynamic components mechanic and collateral duty inspector with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 70, from Surprise, Ariz., and previous citizen of Poland.
As the ceremony concluded, each Marine stood with pride and honor as they recited the Pledge of Allegiance because they had not only chosen to serve as one of the few, the proud, but now they were serving as citizens of the United States of America.