“Welcome,” “welcome,” was a greeting repeated again and again on July 29, 2015 to the eight newly naturalized service members aboard the USS Boxer (LHD-4). Welcome, our brothers and sisters in arms, now brothers and sisters in earnest. Welcome you, who became Soldiers and Sailors in a time of war, fighting for a country that was not yet your own.
This would be a day that these service members, and many watching them, would never forget. With Mount Rainier and the Seattle skyline in the background, eight citizens of countries ranging from Cuba to South Korea, the Philippines, Mexico, and St. Lucia boarded the USS Boxer, a large deck amphibious ship. From the crowd of ship-riders and crew surging around them, they were distinguished only by their uniforms as members of the Navy, Air Force, and Army. And as the USS Boxer weighed anchor, they sat quietly before the flag on the flight deck, patiently waiting for their moment.
I listened to them take the oath of naturalization given by an official from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and it dawned on me how much they had already offered to our country. The oath of enlistment asks the aspirant to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” The oath-taker promises to “bear truth faith and allegiance to the same.” In becoming U.S. citizens, these individuals were, in fact, reaffirming verbatim a commitment already taken and consummated by their choice to don the uniforms of their respective services.
The keynote speaker, Navy Counselor Chief Petty Officer Jean-Hero Lamy himself exemplified the journey these service members were embarking upon. Chief Lamy emigrated from Haiti in 1993, joining the Navy in 1995. Like these service members, he naturalized through the Navy, and he conveyed to his audience how his service to his adopted country was the mechanism for achieving his American dream. He spoke of the United States as a country that has always and unequivocally been a country of and for immigrants, for those seeking to make, by their own efforts, a better life. Chief Lamy reminded his audience of the contributions of immigrants who signed the Constitution, built the railroads and cities and fought to preserve the union and defeat fascism. He spoke of the power of each new generation of immigrants to renew and refresh our nation with their hopes, their drive, their dynamism and their optimism. He spoke of the profound actions of the eight sitting before us, who, in choosing to serve, displayed the truest values of the United States before even becoming its citizens. Chief Lamy exhorted them not to forget their origins and their heritage. The United States, he said, does not ask you to forget who you are in becoming one of its own; on the contrary, it is you, your very identity that will enrich our nation to make it better than ever before. Chief Lamy challenged each of them, and indeed, everyone listening, to make a difference, to work hard, and to pursue all the opportunities and joys of being an American citizen.
There, floating in Elliot Bay, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance, alongside our newest peers, a microcosm of our community. Immigrants are our colleagues, our neighbors, our friends and family. They serve alongside us in ships and submarines, at home and overseas. They left what was near and dear and familiar to for the uncertain opportunities offered by the United States. They swore to risk their lives for a country not their own. For these eight, their decision to enlist in the Armed Services unites the ideals of our country with the realization of the commensurate responsibilities of being its citizens. Their gesture is a reminder of the many adversities we who are born with citizenship will never experience. How momentous these words of acceptance must then be, “thank you for your service” and truly, “welcome home.”