U.S. Army Spc. Alma Lopez Oliveros had led the Pledge of Allegiance before, but when she led it Tuesday morning it was special.
It was the first time she did it as an American citizen.
“It was an honor to get up there,” Lopez Oliveros said. “It felt good.”
Lopez Oliveros, who is originally from Mexico but grew up in Warsaw, Va., was one of six active and former members of the U.S. military who took the oath of citizenship during Durham County’s Veterans Day celebration at the Human Services Building downtown.
“It’s something that we do from year to year,” said Jay Weselman, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Raleigh office. A Veterans Day observance is “a special event to share with service members who originally said that they would pledge allegiance to the United States and serve in the military.”
New citizen Fabiola Ten, who served three years in the U.S. Air Force, now lives in Durham and works as a security officer at Duke Regional Hospital.
“I’m looking forward to getting my mom over here,” said Ten, who came to the United States from the Dominican Republic as a small child and was raised by a grandmother in New York and Pennsylvania. Now 23, she said she’s seen her mother in person once since then.
“I’m planning to get her over here as soon as possible so we can get to building that mother-daughter relationship and (I can) just get to know her,” Ten said. “That’s an open door that being a citizen has granted me, so I’m very happy, very proud.”
Legal noncitizen residents have been eligible to serve in the U.S. armed forces since the nation’s beginning, according to a study for the military by the CNA research corporation ( bit.ly/1o6ptag). According to the study, noncitizens form a large, diverse pool from which the services can recruit, and non-citizen military members have a lower attrition rate than their citizen counterparts.
“Since 2002, we’ve naturalized 102,266 service members around the world,” Weselman said. “We definitely seek to ensure that our troops get the honor of citizenship on behalf of a grateful nation.”
In return, they receive benefits such as expedited applications for citizenship.
“I think that’s the thing to do,” said Jerry Smith of Durham, a Navy Seabee of World War II and, at 101, the oldest veteran attending Tuesday’s ceremony. “By golly weren’t they entitled to it?
“Anybody that goes in service, I don’t care whether they go to war or whether they don’t, they’ve done their duty,” Smith said.
U.S. Rep. David Price, one of the event’s speakers, said, “The decision to join the military, to be willing to sacrifice for the greater good, is one of the bravest choices an individual can make. And this is especially true ... when you’re signing up to defend your adopted home as all of these new citizens have done. ...
“You’ve chosen to become citizens in a reminder that we’re all proudly a nation of immigrants. The diversity of America remains its greatest strength.”
Army Spc. Fan Wang said he felt different after taking the citizenship oath – “I can vote now,” he said – and he was pleased with the occasion for it.
“I wanted to go out here to support the veterans, I’ve got to thank them for their service also,” said Wang, who was born in China and immigrated to Houston with his family when he was 10 years old.
“Today’s a day ... for the veterans, the ones who fought the wars. I wanted to be there to support them. I’m very appreciative they came out and supported us being up here also,” he said.
Others taking the oath Tuesday were Diego Perez Varela and Webton Webley, U.S. Army stationed at Fort Bragg, and Marine Luis Martinez, at Camp Lejeune.