DJIBOUTI, Djibouti – Fifteen New York Army National Soldiers serving with Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa became U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti March 10.
The Soldiers, all assigned to the New York Army National Guard’s 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, are on a nine-month deployment to East Africa as part of Task Force Wolfhound, conducting security and crisis response operations.
Despite hailing from different countries around the world, the 15 people who earned their citizenship are now all proud Soldiers, proud New Yorkers and proud Americans.
“I’m from Mali in west Africa,” said Pfc. Abdoul Fofana, an infantryman from Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment. “I came to the United States in 2017 to try and get a better life and help my family.”
Fofana, who enlisted in 2021, said he knew he was destined for service.
“I always wanted to help people,” Fofana said. “My dream was to be a police officer or a Soldier because it’s an honest way to help people.”
Despite serving with distinction as an infantryman, Fofana said he still isn’t content and wants to serve others as a police officer.
“My dream is to be a police officer, and you can’t do that without your citizenship,” Fofana said. “Getting naturalized means that I can now pursue my dream to become a police officer.”
Spc. Steven Alexander Delgado, a culinary specialist from Hotel Company, 427th Brigade Support Battalion, said he wanted citizenship to take care of his younger sister.
“I have a little sister back in Ecuador,” Delgado said. “My main plan is to get a house after this deployment and bring her to the United States like my mother did with me.”
Delgado, a 12-year-old when he emigrated from Ecuador, said he wanted to give his little sister the upbringing he never had.
“I want to let my sister have the things I couldn’t have in my childhood, education, good food, and a safe home where she won’t be afraid of going out and being mugged,” Delgado said.
While Delgado wants to reunite with his family, Spc. Joan Manuel Veras Pichardo does not wish to be separated from his relatives — being a citizen means he can stay in the United States.
“It will mean a lot to me to get naturalized,” said Pichardo, a combat medic assigned to Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment. “I have two kids and I don’t want to be separated from them.”
Pichardo came to the United States as a child when his family immigrated in 2009.
“We came here to find a new life and help our family back in the Dominican Republic,” he said.
The Soldiers cited the oath of allegiance, remotely administered by Juan Wood with the U.S. Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The ceremony was livestreamed via video, allowing friends and family back in the United States to watch.
“It is a privilege to have you here because I believe you represent the best that America can show to other nations,” said Jonathan Pratt, the U.S. ambassador to Djibouti.
“You are new U.S. citizens and public servants. I hope that your newly attained American citizenship brings you closer to your own definition of happiness,” Pratt said.
Also attending were senior leaders from CJTF-HOA and Camp Lemonnier.
“I’m proud to call you fellow Soldiers and fellow Americans,” said Maj. Gen. Jami Shawley, the CJTF-HOA commander. “When I look across this room, I’m reminded of what makes an American. It’s not the color of your skin, your face, your gender, or your bloodline. It is your commitment to our constitution of fair play and liberty.”
Shawley emphasized their dedication to the United States began earlier, when they enlisted in the U.S. Army.
“As Citizen-Soldiers, you defend not only those who agree with you but also those who do not,” Shawley said. “You defend everyone’s right to free speech, everyone’s right to assemble, everyone’s right to freely exercise their religion. Or no religion at all. Thank you for this opportunity to share in this moment.”
The other Soldiers who became U.S. citizens during the ceremony were:
● Spc. Ralph Josuah Dela Cruz Alvarez, an infantryman assigned to Alpha Troop, 2nd Squadron, 101st Cavalry, from the Philippines.
● Spc. Rennie Barahona Enamorado, an infantryman assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, from Spain.
● Cpl. Joel Calderon, an infantryman assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, from Ecuador
● Spc. Adama Faye, an infantryman assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, from Senegal.
● Spc. Sudre Francis, an infantryman assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, from Jamaica.
● Pfc. Max Ralph Jr. Jean-Baptiste, an infantryman assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, from Haiti.
● Spc. Chernice Leon, an automated logistical specialist assigned to Hotel Company, 427th Brigade Support Battalion, from Saint Lucia.
● Spc. Adantoni Maduro Gomez, an infantryman assigned to 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment.
● Spc Stiven Orozco, an infantryman assigned to Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, from Colombia.
● Spc. David DeJesus Mendez, an infantryman assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, from the Dominican Republic.
● Spc. Stevenson Sterlin, an infantryman assigned to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, from Haiti.
● Spc. Antoine Tyndale, an infantryman assigned to Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry Regiment, from Jamaica.