JOHN YDSTIE, host:
Today in Baghdad, U.S. soldiers gathered to honor Independence Day. In a special ceremony, 585 soldiers were reenlisted and 161 soldiers serving the U.S. Army in Iraq became naturalized American citizens.
Unidentified Man: (unintelligible)
Unidentified Group: …to the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands…
YDSTIE: Senior U.S. military commanders were on hand, so were Republican Senators Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona.
NPR's Rachel Martin was there too, and she joins us on the line.
Rachel, describe the scene for us.
RACHEL MARTIN: The ceremony took place in one of Saddam Hussein's opulent palaces. It's now part of what's called Camp Victory. Inside, soldiers were sitting on folding chairs on the marble floors. There were really ornate chandeliers hanging up above.
They heard a message from their commander in chief, President George W. Bush. They heard from their commander there in Iraq, General Petraeus, who said he was very pleased to be reenlisting so many soldiers and he was proud of those soldiers' commitment.
YDSTIE: As we know, Senator McCain, who is there, has faced some harsh criticism even from his own party about his support for the war and it appears to actually be affecting his run for president. What was his message today?
MARTIN: This is home turf for Senator McCain. The troops here are very familiar with his personal history. He served more than 20 years in the Navy, and roughly five of those were spent as a prisoner of war. He told these soldiers that he had known many servicemen and women over the years and none to him were more inspiring than these soldiers here.
YDSTIE: I imagine you got a chance to talk to some of the soldiers at the ceremony. What's on their minds today as they commemorate the Fourth of July in Iraq?
MARTIN: Well, I did speak with some soldiers who said jokingly that they'd rather be barbecuing and sitting in the sun with their friends and family.
YDSTIE: I bet.
MARTIN: But on the whole, most people said that they were pleased and honored to be here on this day in particular. What struck me, there were people from all kinds of different countries, dozens of countries. Most of the names I saw embroidered on the soldier's uniforms were Hispanic. There were newly naturalized soldiers from Togo, Ghana, the former Soviet Union, and other countries. I spoke with one woman from the Marshall Islands who had served more than six years in the U.S. Army and was only today becoming an American citizen, and she was thrilled today to finally be able to call herself an American citizen and vote on the next election.
YDSTIE: NPR's Rachel Martin in Baghdad. Thanks very much.
MARTIN: You're welcome.
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