Published: August 15, 2013
Sweat collected on Pfc. Carlos Lauchu's upper lip. He nervously bounced his leg.
Within minutes, the Fort Carson infantryman and Panama native would become a citizen of the United States.
"I am very grateful to serve a country that has given me everything," said Lauchu, 32, as he waited to take the oath of citizenship at the post's Freedom Performing Arts Center.
"Citizenship has been one of my goals. Today, I am accomplishing it."
Seven troops and two spouses became U.S. citizens Thursday during a monthly naturalization ceremony held at Fort Carson for area troops and their family members.
Citizen candidates at Thursday's ceremony represented eight countries: Panama, Guyana, the Philippines, Nigeria, Belize, Mexico, Germany and Saint Lucia.
Friends and family members snapped pictures as each new citizen, clad in uniform, took to the stage to receive a certificate and an American flag.
As attendees sang "God Bless the USA," 2-year-old Ava Hagen leaned toward her father, a Fort Carson staff sergeant, and whispered, "We did it!"
Hagen's mother, German native Ilka Perkins-Hagen, became a U.S. citizen Thursday, 15 years after moving to the country.
Though Ava knew something exciting had happened, there's no way she could grasp the gravity of the ceremony, her mother said.
"She will someday," she added.
Nearby, Lauchu's two toddlers waved his American flag and ate chocolate cake.
In 2005, Lauchu came to the U.S. with the goal of finding a career he loved.
He wasn't sure what that would look like.
He became a commercial diver, but he couldn't find enough work to support himself.
"It was slow, and I wanted to do something big," he said. "So I joined the Army."
Now that Lauchu has reached his goal of obtaining citizenship, he has other goals to attend to, such as making it through his first deployment this fall.
Eventually, he'd like to become an Army diver.
Obtaining citizenship "gives me the motivation to keep fighting in life," he said. "It doesn't stop here. I've got to keep going."
He motioned to his wife and sons.
"I've gotta keep fighting for them."
Airman Edward Bispat, an Air Force Academy-stationed pharmacy technician from Guyana, also became a citizen Thursday.
Bispat joined the service late last year after growing tired of working in a mirror factory in New York.
"I wanted to do something to better myself," said Bispat, whose dress blues stood out amongst the combat uniforms of other new citizens. "The Air Force - I love it. It's the best decision I've ever made. It's a better quality of life."
Thursday was "one of the most exciting points in my life," Bispat said with a wide grin.
Airman 1st Class Shamir Cardenas nodded.
Like Bispat, Cardenas joined the Air Force to escape what he saw as a dead-end civilian job.
Though the Belizean has lived in the U.S. for the majority of his life, he still found himself struggling to make ends meet. Before joining the service, he was attending school full time and working full time as a pharmacy technician at a retail pharmacy.
"Every time someone asked me what my major was, I said economics," he said. "But I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, so I joined the Air Force."
Now the Peterson Air Force Base-stationed airman is a medic.
Becoming a U.S. citizen was a status Cardenas needed to attain to reach his ultimate goal: becoming an explosive ordnance disposal airman.
As newly naturalized citizens celebrated, Sharron Clark looked on and smiled.
Clark, the wife of a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, attends each monthly military naturalization ceremony to shake hands and distribute flags.
"To see these young kids who've decided to serve their country before they're even citizens," she said before pausing.
"I have tears in my eyes."