Happy Independence Day from Iraq, and what a special time we had celebrating our country's freedom thousands of miles away from home.
This morning, I had the honor and privilege to attend a naturalization ceremony where 237 service members representing 59 countries took the Oath of Citizenship at Al Faw Palace. Vice President Joe Biden and the commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, General Ray Odierno, were the guest speakers.
We have five soldiers in our brigade that took the oath and became American citizens while serving in combat on foreign soil. It was truly an amazing moment in time. My story today centered around one of those soldiers. He asked me not to reveal his real name because doing so would endanger the lives of his family members who are still citizens of Iraq.
I honored his request, but it was quite a challenge. It was especially tough taking pictures because of his name tag. With a little creativity, I managed.
We call him Specialist "Brown." It was a nickname given to him during deployment by an officer at Fort Benning, Georgia.
So - I suppose the story on this Independence Day should be titled : Red, White, Blue AND Brown.
It is attached. Please enjoy and Happy Birthday America.
Iraqi born U.S. Soldier comes home to become American citizen
By Lt. Col. Pat Simon
225th Eng. Bde. PAO, MND-B
BAGHDAD - We all know the colors associated with American independence: good old red, white and blue. But this year, we can add another color: brown, as in Spc. "Brown," an interpreter with the 225th Engineer Brigade, currently serving in Iraq.
Brown joined 236 other Service members this July 4 at Al Faw palace here, who raised their right hand and recited the oath of citizenship as new Americans.
Vice President Joe Biden and Multi-National Force-Iraq Commander Gen. Raymond Odierno were also in attendance at the ceremony. Biden commended the newly sworn-in citizens for their service and their decision to become Americans.
"You represent what America always stood for: strength, freedom, and resolve ... also remarkable diversity," said Biden.
"It is an amazing feeling," said Brown, soon after shaking the hands of both the vice president and Gen. Odierno. "I was shaking, nervous," he said.
The name "Brown" is not really his birth name but a nickname given to him by an Army officer. He kept the name to protect the lives of his family members who are living in Baghdad.
Brown recalled growing up and living under the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. "As a student, I remembered that we had to stay behind the wall to stay safe from the former Baath Party," said Brown. "You could not talk about politics. Those that did disappeared."
Brown received his education in civil engineering and got a job in Baghdad as a supervisor for the U.S. Corps of Engineers. He would find out quickly that his daily commute to Tikrit to check on water, sewer and electrical projects would become a frightening trek.
"The security was very bad. There were many sectarian problems over here. It was not easy moving from area to area," said Brown. "It was very dangerous."
If that was not enough, he became emotionally scarred by the way fellow citizens treated him at the time because of his tenure with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"Many of them thought I was a traitor," Brown said. "They called us very bad names. They did not realize that when we did our jobs, we did them for the Iraqi people."
Brown felt there was no longer a future for him in his war-torn country. He had to leave his father, brother, and two sisters behind and set a new course for freedom and opportunity- America.
Brown applied for and was granted a special immigrant visa. His first stop was Denver, CO to live with his uncle. Brown tried to find a job in engineering, but he found nothing. He remembered a friend that was a former associate of his in Iraq. He called her and within a few days, Brown and his wife were in St. Louis, Mo. staying with this friend. She then suggested that he apply for a program that would change his life, and unbeknownst to him at the time, it would put him right back on the soil of his homeland.
Within weeks, Brown was not only at U.S. Army Basic Training as a new recruit, he was a qualified interpreter who was on the fast pace to deployment to Iraq. The program also expedited his ability to receive his U.S. citizenship.
"It's truly amazing to have this new opportunity," said Brown.
Just four months ago, Brown was attached to the 225th Eng. Bde. He found himself right in the middle of history engaging in conversations between military leaders from both countries.
As a military engineer interpreter, Brown has literally bridged the gap between two worlds, and he has finally come to grips with his own world: his past and future.
"It's a big responsibility," said Brown. "I know I am making a difference. This is important for me."
By the end of the year, Brown, a new American citizen, will once again have to leave behind his beloved birthplace, but the circumstances are different this time. "My old life is over for me here, but I would like to return and visit one day as an American citizen," he said.
BAGHDAD - Iraqi-born U.S. Soldier turned American citizen, Spc. "Brown," an interpreter attached to the 225th Engineer Brigade, stands in front of a giant American flag inside al-Faw Palace before a naturalization ceremony July 4. Brown, who uses that nickname to protect family members who live in Iraq, joined 236 other service members representing over 50 other countries, to become a U.S. citizen. (U.S. Army Photo by Lt. Col. Pat Simon, 225th Eng. Bde.PAO )