Hundreds of U.S. troops marked the Fourth of July by re-enlisting Wednesday while others took oaths of American citizenship in ceremonies at the main U.S. headquarters in Iraq.
A total of 588 troops signed up for another stint, according to a U.S. military statement, while 161 soldiers became naturalized American citizens. The ceremonies took place at Camp Victory, the sprawling American headquarters at the western end of the Iraqi capital.
"No bonus, no matter the size, can adequately compensate you for the contribution each of you has made and continues to make as a custodian of our nation's defenses," the top U.S. commander, Gen. David Petraeus, told the audience.
Visiting Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., congratulated the new citizens and spoke of the hardships endured fighting in an unpopular war. McCain, who has backed the war, has watched his presidential campaign suffer as public support for the conflict has waned.
"You know that you who have endured the dangers and deprivations of war so that the worst thing would not befall us, so that America might be secure in our freedom," McCain said. "As you know, the war in which you have fought has divided the American people. But it has divided no American in their admiration for you. We all honor you."
Petraeus dedicated the Independence Day ceremony to the memory of two soldiers who were killed in action before they could be sworn in as citizens.
They were Sgt. Kimel Watt, 21, of Brooklyn, N.Y., a native of Jamaica who was killed June 3 in Baghdad, and Spc. Farid Elazzouzi of Paterson, N.J., who died June 14 in a bombing near Kirkuk. Elazzouzi was born in Morocco.
"Words cannot express the admiration I feel for these two men or the sadness I feel for our nation's loss and their families' sacrifice," Petraeus said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., led the new citizens in the Pledge of Allegiance.
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"I'm glad that I can be here to get my citizenship," said Pfc. Yaremi Boza, a Cuban-born human resources specialist with the 260th Military Intelligence Battalion. "It means being able to take care of myself and my family and having lots of opportunities and windows open."
For many of the more than 155,000 troops, it was business as usual — patrolling, convoy duties and guarding key facilities. At least two Americans were killed Wednesday — one in a helicopter crash north of Baghdad and another during combat operations in the south of the capital.
Spc. James Jewett, 36, from Long Beach, Calif., spent his day hauling cargo containers and thinking about home.
"I'd be barbecuing with my daughter and my mom back in Long Beach," he said. "Being over here teaches you to appreciate the small things that America has to offer."
Dining facilities at U.S. bases around the country were open throughout the day, serving traditional meals of barbecued ribs, barbecued chicken, grilled rib-eye steak, corn on the cob, apple and cherry pie.