MANCHESTER — In a patriotically decorated American Legion hall Thursday, 26 people from 17 different countries became American citizens after raising their right hand and swearing to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States.
For three of New Hampshire's newest citizens, the support-and-defend duty was pretty much been there, done that.
Two are already members of the U.S. military. One is a veteran, having served in the U.S. Navy for eight years. He swore American citizenship 13 years after his hitch ended.
"I put my time in ahead of time, paying it forward," said Milford resident Chris Metcalfe, after the ceremony.
The three, as well as the others, became citizens on May 30, the traditional date of Memorial Day before the date was floated to create a three-day weekend. The ceremony took place at the Sweeney American Legion Post.
In brief remarks, the Manchester director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spoke about the selfless service of the military.
"We are loyal to the Constitution and proud to ensure its liberty," said Anthony Violanti, himself a veteran. "The reward is the knowledge that we have contributed to something bigger than ourselves."
Metcalfe said he moved to the United States from Ontario in 1985 to attend college. He joined the Navy in 2000 to "figure things out" and ended up working on tactical electronics, specifically radar-jamming jets on the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier.
His security clearance was secret. "I had access to everything but nuclear," he said. His wife, a Filipino, became a citizen four years ago.
Also receiving their citizenship were Colombian native Jhon Castillo Santana, a member of the Army National Guard, and Suman Reddivari, from India, who turned 33 Thursday.
Reddivari wore Army fatigues to the ceremony. He is a dentist in the Army reserve, assigned to Fort Devens in Massachusetts. He joined the military through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, a 2009 program that allows for the recruitment of immigrants with medical, language or other specialized skills.
A U.S. resident for seven years, he said the program allowed him to cut seven or eight years off the waiting list for citizenship. Citizenship also boosted his rank, from specialist to captain.
"It's a great country," Reddivari said about his native India, "but this is where my life is."
He said the citizenship gives him a lot of freedom. At the same time, he said he'll go anywhere his country tells him to go.
The new citizens come from Albania, Angola, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Germany, India, Iraq, Jordan, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Peru, Portugal, Somalia and the United Kingdom.
The ceremony involved patriotic songs sung by the Forever Young Chorus, handshakes from staff workers of New Hampshire's congressional delegation and a videotaped message by President Obama.
"This is now officially your country," the President said, "a home to protect and defend and serve by active, engaged citizenship."