They were soldiers from 21 different countries. But at the end of a short ceremony Tuesday at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, they pledged allegiance to only one: America.
Raising their right hands, 26 young soldiers took an oath and became new American citizens during a naturalization ceremony held at the main U.S. military base north of Kabul.
"It is so fitting that today on the Fourth of July, when we celebrate our nation's birthday, that we would take the time ... and have 26 fellow soldiers join us as fellow American soldiers," said Maj. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, the U.S. operational commander in Afghanistan, who attended the ceremony.
Under a fast-track law enacted in 2004, soldiers on active duty in the U.S. military are automatically eligible for citizenship. Normally, obtaining citizenship is a lengthy process that can run three to five years.
"It's wonderful to see our soldiers get the benefit of citizenship," said Pamela Hutchings, an officer with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services who flew in from Pakistan to administer the oaths.
About 7,000 soldiers have become citizens under the fast-track program, according to the immigration service.
On this day, there were soldiers from countries across the globe: Mexico, Kenya, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Zambia — and even Afghanistan.
Specialist Ahmad John, 27, originally from Kabul but now hailing from Los Angeles, said he has been dreaming of this day for years.
"I feel great. I will be an American citizen. Since I was 10 years old, I had a dream that one day in America, I would be a citizen," he said.
John, a military linguist who speaks Dari, Pashto and Arabic, said he believes his skills are serving two nations.
"I'm a citizen of America but I'm Afghanistan-born. I come back and I serve my motherland country and protect my homeland," he said.
For Pfc. Joyce Nanquil, 20, of Temecula, California, getting naturalized was doubly meaningful because her older brother Alfer Nanquil, who is serving in Iraq, is also getting his citizenship the same day.
Originally from the Philippines, Nanquil said she and her brother are the last in their family to become Americans.
"I feel really great. Our family supported us joining the military and they are really proud of us. We were the last ones to get citizenship," she said.