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FORT HOOD, Texas — Pantaleon Montes became an American the hard way.
During his past 11 years in the Army, the infantry staff sergeant has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He faced combat in both countries.
Montes, a native of Mexico, became an American citizen during a naturalization ceremony inside III Corps Headquarters at Fort Hood earlier this month.
"It's like being a new person," said Montes, who submitted his application to become an American citizen four years ago.
Nine other soldiers became citizens during the event, the first naturalization ceremony at Fort Hood since 2009.
The 10 soldiers, ranging in rank from private first class to staff sergeant, come from all over the world: Cuba, Fiji, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Micronesia and South Africa.
Nearly 200 fellow soldiers, including III Corps and Fort Hood commander Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr., and family members watched the soldiers take the oath of allegiance.
Less than 1 percent of U.S. citizens are in the military, Campbell said. "So just by serving, they have done more than most citizens will ever do."
The three-star general said all 10 of the soldiers are combat veterans. The Army allows citizens of different countries to join the Army as long as they possess a permanent resident visa, also known as a green card.
The ceremony included a congratulatory video from President Barack Obama and a music video featuring patriotic scenes and the song "God Bless the USA" by Lee Greenwood.
Officials from the San Antonio branch of the United States Citizens and Immigration Service orchestrated the ceremony, and along with Campbell, passed out official documents of citizenship to each soldier.
The soldiers have already given much and "America hopes you will continue to give," said Andrea Quarantillo, acting regional director for the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Service.
For Staff Sgt. Rodney Edwin, 42, a trooper with the 1st Cavalry Division, becoming a U.S. citizen was more than just a goal he set for himself.
"When you have a wife and children, it's no longer about you," said Edwin, a Micronesia native who has been in the Army 15 years.
His wife, Lani Edwin, and two of their four children were on hand for the ceremony.
"He's worked hard for it," Lani Edwin said.