Cpl. Jo Jones
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Lance Cpl. Karl Toutpuissant always dreamed of becoming an American citizen, but he never expected he would get the opportunity while serving in Iraq.
Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Toutpuissant lived in the Haitian capital until he was five years old when his parents moved his family to Miami to seek more job and educational opportunities.
Toutpuissant graduated high school in 2004 and enlisted in the Marine Corps three years later as a motor transport operator.
“I wanted adventure, fun and challenges,” said Toutpuissant. “I also liked the uniform. It was sharp.”
Toutpuissant’s first assignment was with II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
At the end of 2008, Toutpuissant talked to a career retention specialist, who helped him start pursuing his American citizenship.
After deploying to Iraq with II MHG (Forward) in January 2009, Toutpuissant worked with Capt. Keith Anthony, a legal administration officer with the Multi National Force – West staff judge advocate office, to complete his citizenship process.
“Lance Corporal Toutpuissant was very excited to get his citizenship,” said Anthony. “It was very rewarding to help him, and it was a good feeling to [know] he got approved.”
At the beginning of July, Toutpuissant and 236 other service members serving throughout Iraq traveled to Baghdad to finalize the citizenship process. They took written and oral exams, which tested their knowledge of U.S. history and reading and writing skills.
After passing the tests and ensuring their paperwork was complete and accurate, Toutpuissant and the other service members became U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony at Al Faw Palace aboard Camp Victory, Iraq, on America’s Independence Day.
“This was the experience of a lifetime,” said Toutpuissant. “I felt like a new man.”
The service members, hailing from 59 different countries, got the opportunity to shake hands with two of America’s prominent leaders – Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commanding general for Multi-National Force – Iraq, and Vice President Joe Biden.
Biden said he was honored to be part of the special occasion and was proud of the new citizens.
“As your vice president, I’m honored to witness the first moments of your citizenship as citizens of the United States of America,” said Biden. “You represent what America has always stood for: freedom, strength, resolve and also the remarkable diversity that we represent.”
Toutpuissant said although he would never forget his heritage, he was very proud to be an American citizen.
“It’s a real blessing. That was the best day of my life so far.”