SAN DIEGO - They may have come from 31 different countries and serve in different branches of the military, but on the flight deck of the USS Midway Museum they all had one thing in common: all became new citizens of the country they serve.
This naturalization ceremony is held every year just before the Fourth of July holiday.
"I'm really happy and proud and feel accomplished because it took a while to get here. It wasn't easy," said Xavier Thompson, a Navy corpsman born in Germany.
There are 65,000 immigrants serving on active duty, which is about 5 percent of the total in the armed forces, but an even more impressive number concerns the highest military award, the Congressional Medal of Honor.
"A staggering 20 percent, one-fifth of all award recipients, have been immigrant service members," said Brig. Gen. James Bierman Jr. in remarks during the ceremony.
Most who became citizens are relatively new to the military. Jorge Hernandez, however, is an exception.
"After 12 years in the Marines, I'll be getting out in another week," he said.
The two-time Purple Heart recipient fought in Iraq and plans to work at the V.A. when he leaves as a way to continue to give back.