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Not yet a citizen, but fighting for his country

Name: Yoon Ra

Rank: Corporal, Marine Corp Reserves

Age: 22

Hometown: Chicago

Job: Combat engineer

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CAMP VIPER, southern Iraq—Cpl. Yoon Ra is fighting for his country, even if it's not official.

Yoon, who was born in South Korea but grew up in Chicago, is a combat engineer in southern Iraq. He has applied for U.S. citizenship.

"Yeah," he says with a smile. "I'm fighting for a country that I'm not a citizen of. It's not weird, because I was raised in America. The only difference between me being a citizen is the paperwork. I feel like I am an American citizen. I was basically raised here. I have no weird feelings like I'm not fighting for my country."

Yoon, 22, is a Marine reservist stationed with Charlie Company, 6th Engineer Support Battalion.

"You can join the military even if you aren't a citizen, but you can't be an officer," Yoon says. "I love working with reservists. Active-duty people put us down, saying we are weekend warriors. But I like seeing how we pull together, and we can accomplish the same mission the same way the active-duty people can."

Yoon was born in Seoul. In 1986, he moved with his family to Chicago. There are better opportunities in the United States, he says.

"My dad wanted us to get schooling here. He brought us over, me and my older sister," he says.

Yoon joined the Marine Corps Reserves in 1999 after graduating from high school.

"At that point in my life, I didn't have any goals or focus," he says. "In Korea, every male in the family has to go into the army. My dad, Sang Ra, did serve in the Korean army. He feels every man should do service. My dad wanted me to do the ROTC and the whole officer thing. I wanted to do the enlisted side so I could learn how to lead."

Back home, Yoon studies animal sciences at the University of Illinois.

When he becomes a U.S. citizen, he will have plenty of support at the swearing-in ceremony. The Marines in his squad have promised to be there.

"We are going to all dress in our blues," he says. "The fact that I'm in the military pushes things through faster. When I get back, there is a fee and some more paperwork I have to send in. I'd say it will happen within two years."

Yoon could be in for a surprise. Last July, President Bush issued an order making noncitizen troops immediately eligible for citizenship, no longer requiring three years of active service.

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ILLUSTRATION (from KRT Illustration Bank, 202-383-6064): IRAQFACES+YOON

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