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Groton - Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Marco Brown of Groton became a U.S. citizen Friday at the Submarine Force Library and Museum, along with 15 other service members, retirees and family members.
Brown had been selected to read the Pledge of Allegiance before the attendees, which included U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and Senior U.S. District Judge Warren W. Eginton. Before the ceremony started, Brown said, he was "super nervous" about reciting the pledge. "I know it, but the problem is that I can't say it off the top of my head in front of 100 people," he explained.
Brown, 27, is from Cape Town, South Africa. He moved to the United States 10 years ago with his father. He has served in the U.S. Navy for five years as a medic and has been working on getting his Certificate of Naturalization for two years. The process was slow while he was stationed in Japan for two years, he said, but once he was back in the U.S. the government was more "accommodating."
"I'm relieved," Brown said Friday. "I finally got it."
The outdoor ceremony was held across from the USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear-powered submarine. The man who led the effort to build the historic sub, Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, was also a naturalized citizen, said Capt. Carl A. Lahti, commanding officer of the Naval Submarine Base.
"Admiral Rickover's legacy to this nation is not just the nuclear Navy and Nautilus, but 63 years of uniform service to his adoptive country," Lahti said. "Tens of thousands of immigrants are currently making a similar commitment, serving in the United States military or as members of our military families. They are on the front lines and at posts and assignments around the globe."
After the 16 immigrants from around the world took the Oath of Allegiance, Eginton said he would normally encourage the group to turn out and vote and to serve on juries. But to this group he emphasized their continued military service. "Your service to us is so important and the fact that you seek successfully to become citizens of this country, not only to serve, is very important to us," he said.
Terrence Bacchus, 45, of Bristol, came to the United States in 1987 from San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago. He served in the Navy for seven years as an aviation service technician second-class, in which capacity he enjoyed visiting different places - Cuba, Puerto Rico, France, Italy and Spain. Not seeing his family or even having access to Skype was the difficult part, he said.
Bacchus completed his service in 1995, went to college and now works as a network administrator for a medical company. He applied for citizenship eight months ago and said the process - which included an application, interview, verbal American History test, confirmation letter and finally the taking of the oath - was easy. "I feel very encouraged," he said Friday. "I feel a whole new world is going to open up for me."
Courtney arrived toward the end of the ceremony and thanked those in uniform for their service and thanked their spouses for being "the force behind the force."
"To become full citizens, it is such a powerful statement about your belief in the future of this country - it is hard to sort of match that with words in a speech," Courtney said.
The post-9/11 era hasn't been a time period in which people have been asked to do things that are "normal," Courtney added. "They were actually involved in some of the toughest conflict in our country, the longest running conflict in Afghanistan, in our nation's history," he said.
Friday's event took place during Military Appreciation Month, with Memorial Day coming Monday. As each of the 16 people collected their certificate, shook hands with officials and accepted a small American Flag, the audience of 100-plus cheered, and one blew a horn.
"It's a good day to be an American," said Hanna Caluag of New London, who became a citizen Friday. Originally from the Philippines, she met her husband, Mila Caluag, a U.S. citizen and lieutenant on the USS Minnesota, at the U.S. Naval Academy in 2000. She attended the academy as a foreign national and then went back to serve in the Filipino navy. The two were married in 2009, when Hanna Caluag applied for citizenship.
"I feel very proud to be finally an American," she said. "Five years - that's a long time."