Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Seventy five Navy, Marine Corp and Coast Guard service members became the newest citizens of the United States yesterday in a ceremony aboard the USS Midway in San Diego.
The stars and stripes flapped calmly high above the vast deck of the aircraft carrier, as rows of men and women in sharply pressed uniforms assembled below. They were ready for a moment they’d been waiting for, for a long time.
Paul Taran, formerly Pavlo Taran, is a tall man, standing proud in his tan uniform.
“I dreamt of living in the United States since I was 13.” he said. He’s now 33.
Taran was born in Ukraine, and as a boy he wanted to join the military. At that time the Soviet Union was at war in Afghanistan. He never fought in that war, but, now, years later, he is headed to Afghanistan, but as a member of the United States Marine Corps.
“You see, when I was growing up in the Soviet Union and I was a little boy,” he said, I told my mom, 'I’m going to be there, one day I’m going to fight the war.' And I will be there but it’s going to be on the other side. It’s very interesting how life turns.”
Taran says he has struggled for years to become a citizen of the United States, defecting to Canada and then crossing the border to New York. He took jobs in construction and spent years as a bouncer in nightclubs, but he says he always knew he wanted to be in the military. As soon as he was granted legal residency last year, he signed up for the Marine Corps.
Juan Balderas’ family came from Mexico. He joined the Marines two years ago. He’s in his dress blues and his brown eyes glow with excitement. He says he’s been working towards this moment for more than 8 years.
“I’m always looking to better myself, and I knew there were doors that were going to open for me, living over here, becoming a citizen. I just knew it took a long time to become a citizen so I decided to join the Marine Corps in order to become a citizen faster and to be able to get better jobs.”
Balderas says he can get a security clearance once he’s naturalized. He’s thinking about a career in the FBI. But first he’s heading to Afghanistan and he’s already served one deployment in Iraq.
The 75 men and women at this ceremony are just a few of more than 50,000 service members who’ve been granted citizenship since legislation passed in 2001, speeding up naturalization for those who sign up for duty in time of war.
Judge William Gallo, a member of the Marine Corps himself, congratulated them.
“Most Americans can only dream of having the privilege of serving their country during war time,” Gallo said. “And yet you, you have done this for a country that wasn’t yours yet, a country that hasn’t called you citizen - until today.”
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service has naturalized more than 10,000 service members this year, that’s more than in any year since 1970.
Paul Taran of Ukraine says the ceremony feels almost like a dream. After all the years he has spent working for this moment, he can hardly believe it is actually here.
“It’s been a really long road,” he says. “Just a few years ago it seemed unreachable. Sometimes I thought the United State is on a different planet actually, it seemed so far. But it’s happening now, so all the troubles that I went through in the past just paid off in a second. It is the most important day of my life, I can tell that for sure.”
Taran stands at attention with the other freshly minted citizens, listening to the national anthem, as if for the first time.