By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Nov. 23, 2016) -- More than 160 candidates for American citizenship from more than 40 nations swore allegiance to the United States of America and became citizens Monday as part of a naturalization ceremony at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning, a vocal proponent of the idea that diversity strengthens the Army he leads, served as a guest speaker at the event. He told the new American citizens and their families that he finds great parallels in the strength diversity brings to the Army and to the United States.
"You took an oath, an oath to a constitution," Fanning said. "You are now Americans. As I look out at each of you, I see the diversity that makes us strong as a nation, that defines who we are as a people, and it's a beautiful thing."
Among those who became citizens were two military veterans and men and women who were born in Afghanistan, China, Egypt, France, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.
"As Army secretary, when I look at a formation of Soldiers, I want to see strength, I want to see resilience," he said. "I see that as I look around this room today. As I think about the diverse paths to citizenship that each of you has taken, I also see grit, perseverance and determination. These characteristics are what makes Americans and America great."
Fanning assured the new American citizens that the diversity they bring to the United States from their home countries is present not just in the United States, but also in the Army that defends the United States. Diversity is part of what makes America and America's Army the strongest in the world, he said.
"Those who wish to do us harm and those who want to challenge America don't have what we have right here in this room," Fanning said. "They don't have men and women from more than 40 countries seeking to earn citizenship. They don't have citizens who have left everything behind to forge a better future. They don't have dreamers and builders from every part of the world striving to better their country. We do."
At the naturalization ceremony, retired Army Capt. Florent "Flo" Groberg, who earned the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan in 2012 was named an "Outstanding American by Choice." The honor is a recognition bestowed upon naturalized citizens who have made significant contributions to their community and their adopted country through civic participation, professional achievement and responsible citizenship.
An immigrant himself, Groberg was born in Poissy, France in 1983. He was naturalized as an American citizen in 2001, at 17 years old. After earning a degree in criminology and criminal justice, he joined the Army in 2008.
"This is a great day," Groberg told the new citizens and their families. "I am so honored to be here. I know this is a day that you will never forget. This is a moment in your life that you worked so hard for and you deserve. You've earned it. But now comes that responsibility of being just great citizens."
Groberg told the new Americans that the range of opportunities to achieve great things in their new country is boundless -- that anything is possible if they are willing to work for it.
"If a kid from Poissy, France, who didn't speak English, gets to have an opportunity to meet the president of the United States at the White House, it should tell you a little bit about this country: anything is possible if you work for it," he said. "You are now in a position where you can change not only your life but the lives of your families and your community. Never settle, always seek to be more and do more."
Close to 20 percent of those who have received the Medal of Honor were immigrants like Capt. Groberg. In his remarks, Secretary Fanning expressed his wish that this legacy of contribution to the United States and its military would continue, and he acknowledged the long journey the new Americans had already made.
"The dynamism and diversity you bring to this nation will be a catalyst for a stronger more prosperous America, just as it has always been," Fanning said. "Having the chance to welcome you and acknowledge your citizenship is one of my proudest moments as Army secretary. Thank you for all you have done to arrive here today and all you will do to make our America proud for generations to come."