Sunday, July 31, 2005

Becoming Americans under fire

Michael Yon, a writer who's blogging from Iraq, reports he keeps running across US soldiers who have joined American forces as a way to gain citizenship.

I was privileged to witness the award ceremony for 12 new American citizens in Deuce Four recently. I hope America makes them feel welcome. If the folks at home could see what these people are doing in Iraq, they would make these special troops feel as honored guests. But now, better yet, they are honored citizens, giving life to the concept of active citizenship.
Yon writes about some of the non-citizen soldiers he's gotten to know.
Today, I walked to noon chow with SSG William Suarez, from Puerto Rico. Suarez has a home in central Florida, and is as American as I am, except he comes complete with a very thick Puerto Rican accent. The soldiers love to have Suarez around; he has a great reputation under fire. One time, during a big fight downtown, SSG Suarez's voice came over the radio. With his thick accent, the commander joked at first he thought the radio had been captured by the enemy. There are at least five Spanish speaking soldiers in the fire support element, and the running joke in the TOC is that Deuce Four can do all their calls for fire (artillery, aviation, etc) in Spanish, without need to encrypt the calls.

SSG Suarez and I had lunch today with SFC Kim, who I had never met before and will probably never meet again. (Kim just happened to sit next to us at the chow hall.) SFC Kim was born in Korea 53 years ago, but he looks about 35, and didn't even join the US Army until he was 30 years-old. Kim says he's very happy to be an American, and that some of us don't realize how good we have it.

Then there's the soldier Yon calls "Q."
There's another soldier here from Mexico, Victor Quinonez. Everyone calls him Q. At 23, Q fights like crazy; he's earned his great combat reputation. I joke with Q that he'll either be a top military leader, or in trouble with the law if he doesn't listen to his leaders. And Q always tells me, "Mike, when the shit goes down and the bullets are flying, you stick with me and I'll get you out. Never fear when the Q is here! You've seen me in action. You know I'll get you out. I'm a Mexican, not a Mexican't!"

First time I met Q, I thought he was full of something, and he was, but it wasn't what I was thinking. One time, during a brief shootout, I kind of broke through a gate for cover in a house, and Q said, "Mike, what you hidin' from!" I answered, "Bullets, dumbass! Get in here!" "You come out here!" Q said, "We're gonna get these guys!" Now he's like my young Mexican-American brother and I get worried he'll get shot or blown up.

It's been true since the U.S. was founded that some of the best Americans were not born in America. And we can use all the good people we can get. That's something to remember.

Yon's blog has some great photos. It's impressive work.

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