18 Marines become US citizens in one of the largest naturalization ceremonies ever
The newly minted citizens hailed from 14 different countries.
Pfc. Christian Mejia was among 18 U.S. Marines to become a U.S. citizen on Friday during a naturalization ceremony aboard the historic World War II battleship, the USS North Carolina.
Haling from 14 different countries across five continents, including Mejía's native country, Guatemala, the Marine Corps said in a press release that the naturalization ceremony "was one of the largest ever for a Marine Corps infantry battalion."
Mejia recited his Oath of Allegiance next to his fellow members of the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, 6th Marine Regiment, who are all stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. It's been just over a year since he joined the service as a non-citizen, but he said it has been "one of the best journeys."
"When I came here from Guatemala I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself, bigger than my family, so I decided to join the Marine Corps," he told ABC News Live's Kyra Phillips. "As soon as I graduated boot camp I noticed the love that I received from everybody around me -- my seniors, civilians, everyone. It's a honestly a pleasure to be part of the Marine Corps."
As a child in Guatemala, Mejia said he'd see pictures of Marines and was initially drawn by how they behaved with others and even how they presented themselves in uniform, but it's upholding the freedom of Americans that he finds the most fulfilling.
"The best part is being able to protect the freedom that this country offers to everyone, everyone that lives here, no matter what they are; it doesn't matter if they're citizens or not," he said. "We all have the same rights and overall every opportunity we have to become better than before. We become better people every day."
Although foreign nationals who are legally residing in the U.S. can join the Marine Corps, those who meet certain requirements can become naturalized. Becoming a citizen will not only give Mejia greater access to other career opportunities in the service, it may also allow him to help those in his family who have supported his service by petitioning for them to obtain permanent residency.
"One of the best opportunities the Marine Corps has given me is to help my family, not only in the civilian way, but to also be able to give my parents permission to stay in America, in the United States, with papers. That will be my first step," he said.
ABC News' Luis Martinez contributed to this report.