by Joe Schwartz
HILLSBOROUGH — Lance Cpl. Carlos Ocampo now can count himself as a citizen of the country he’s willing to die for to protect.
A native Columbian, Ocampo moved to the United States and joined the marines, desperate to help defend the country from terrorist attacks.
“This country deserves to have its freedom, and I fight for that,” he says. “I felt like a citizen before, but right now it feels just great.”
Ocampo joined nine other military members during a naturalization ceremony at the Orange County Social Services Center in Hillsborough on Wednesday. They were born in countries across the world, Australia, Russia, Mexico, Liberia, Israel and South Korea, but they are all united by American ideals.
“You have these people who are wiling to make the ultimate sacrifice for what we believe in,” said Jeffrey Sapko, field office director for the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services office in Raleigh. “We believe in them, too.”
Veterans from WWII, Korea, Vietnam and current conquests also were honored during the event and gave the newly sworn citizens a standing ovation.
“I feel free, I actually do,” said Sgt. Jose Soto, a marine who hails from the Dominican Republic and who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It makes me feel welcomed and part of the family.”
The ceremony was timed both to the 235th anniversary of the Marines and Veterans Day. Soldiers, seamen and pilots donned uniforms, hats or pins, depending on rank and their place in history.
Rep. David Price honored their service,
“You stand for what is best about this country, what is enduring about this country,” Price told them.
Members of the Navy Seabees, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Triple Nickel, Wounded Warriors and Vietnam Veterans of America each were recognized.
John Blackfoot, a retired marine who served from 1960 to 1964, offered a special welcome to the new citizens on behalf of the Occoneechee people.
“I felt obligated to welcome these people to the land of people who are forgotten in these ceremonies,” he said.
President Barack Obama also offered congratulations in a video presentation that concluded with a dramatic montage of “Proud to be an American.”
“Citizenship is not something you hang on the wall,” Sapko said. “It’s an active state.”
In Ocampo’s case, citizenship means his wife and children can finally join him in the United States.