By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 25, 2013 – Twenty-eight people representing 26 countries, including 13 service members, took their oath of U.S. citizenship during a naturalization ceremony in the White House’s East Room today.
“In each of you, we see the true spirit of America,” Obama said. “And we see a bit of ourselves, too, because most of our stories trace back to moments just like this one … to an ancestor who, … like the men and women here today, –- raised their right hand and recited that sacred oath.”
A full list of the service members, their ranks and affiliations was not available, but the president singled two of them out by name in his remarks: Nikita Kirichenko and Elrina Brits.
Kirichenko came to the United States at age 11 from Ukraine, the president said. “His mother saw America as the one place on Earth where her son could do anything he wanted,” he added. “And a few years ago, Nikita decided that he wanted to join the Air Force so that, in his words, ‘I could give back to a country that took me in and gave me a better life.’
“Thank you, Nikita,” Obama continued. “Today, we proudly salute him not just as a member of our military, but also as a citizen of our country.”
Brits was born in South Africa, and grew up in Washington state, Obama said. “When Elrina decided to join the Navy, somebody told her that she wouldn’t be able to cut it,” he added. “But even though she wasn’t yet American on paper, she had that American quality of being defiant when somebody says you can’t do something, so she proved them wrong.”
Brits deployed twice to the Middle East and once to Haiti, the president said, “showcasing another quintessentially American impulse, and that’s helping others in need. And as a new citizen, Elrina hopes to serve her country in a new way -– as a police officer.”
Obama commended all of the service members at the ceremony, noting their willingness to serve their adopted country.
“Elrina, Nikita [and] every member of the military with us have shown incredible patriotism -- a willingness to risk their lives in defense of a nation that was not yet their own,” he said. “And that’s a remarkable act, and it made each of them one of us. It made each of them in some ways American, even before it was official, because that kind of service and sacrifice has defined our nation for more than two centuries.”