He was born on a different continent. His birth certificate is in a foreign language. The man and woman who gave him life are not U.S. citizens. But he is a true blue American. Who is he? He is an international adoptee.
America’s most valuable resource, its people, includes individuals who could not be branded as “Made in the USA” if they were manufactured products. The growth of international adoptions has provided our country with thousands of citizens who were not conceived or born in the United States. But even if their countries of origin are foreign ones, these adoptees are Americans as a result of legal process. And the fact of their foreign birth does not preclude them from making valuable contributions to their adopted homeland.
One adoptee who has made Uncle Sam proud is John Iten. Of course, John is not his original name. John was born in Ankara, Turkey, in 1964 as Günaltan Basbug. He was adopted as an infant by an active duty U.S. Air Force member and his wife who were stationed in Turkey at that time.
John did not come from a cabbage patch; he came from an orphanage in the Town of Altindag. While John was too young to have any memories of this life-altering event in his life, his adoptive parents did recount to him some of the story of how he came to be adopted. They learned of the availability of Turkish children for adoption from another military couple who had adopted a Turkish baby. After John was identified as their future son, a few months elapsed before he was placed in their physical custody. Until that transfer could be affected, John’s parents came frequently to make sure that John received the best of care while in that facility. The adoption was finalized while John’s adoptive father was stationed at Incirlik Air Force Base.
John’s forever family returned to the United States with him in tow. Although legally adopted by an American citizen, John still had to be naturalized in order to become a U.S. citizen. He became an official nephew of his Uncle Sam at 1 and a half years old when he was naturalized along with his mother, a German citizen, during his father’s assignment to Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base. The new American spent his formative years in Germany where his father was thereafter assigned in continuance of his Air Force career.
Although the military was not literally in his blood since he was adopted, John had a patriotic spirit instilled in him through his upbringing in a military family. He participated in ROTC for three years during high school and was awarded a Navy ROTC scholarship to Auburn University. Budgetary issues, however, resulted in the scholarships being withdrawn. Determined to serve his adopted country nevertheless, John enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was trained as a security policeman and a dog handler. He was excited to receive orders to a base in Germany where the German he learned as a child living in that country could be put to good use. He served as a translator as an added duty.
After four years of active duty service, John got out of the Air Force when force reductions took place. But, true blue American that he was, John later joined the Air Force Reserves. He rose meteorically through the ranks, attaining the rank of master sergeant in record time. John was activated numerous times before retiring out of the Reserves after 22 years.
John sought not only to serve his country, but also to better himself. He put himself through college and then went on to obtain two master’s degrees in natural resource and land management and in environmental management. These educational achievements assisted with his Air Force service in the capacity of Environment Engineering Superintendent in which he was responsible for environmental concerns and the occupational health of Air Force members.
Military retirement did not conclude John’s government connection. Following retirement, he took a position as a senior industrial hygienist with a government contractor, working for NASA at Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi. In this job he continued to perform occupational health assessments and address environmental protection at NASA. John later was hired by a government contractor working at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
But academics drew him back in, and John left to work on a PhD at Florida State University. During his time at FSU, John enjoyed taking environmental law courses at FSU’s law school. When the PhD program did not take the path John desired, he again took a government position, this time at the state level with Florida’s Department of Transportation, performing transportation and environmental modeling and projections.
John’s stellar military service, his educational achievements, and his government work was only possible because he was adopted. As he explains it, “I’m blessed that I was ‘rescued.’ Who knows what would have become of me? Street urchin or beggar? Or worse—criminal or dead. Yes, thank God for adoptions foreign or domestic.” John realizes that his biological parents, who he believes were young, poor, and unmarried, gave him a chance at a decent life by surrendering him so that he could be adopted.
Although a Turk by birth, John has willingly and eagerly embraced the role of a responsible and involved U.S. citizen. He has taken advantage of the opportunities offered in his adopted homeland and has used his education and abilities to serve it. John understands that being an American is about more than just where you were born or to whom. John’s parents received the joy of raising an adorable little boy with big dark eyes, but the U.S. received the joy of having a naturalized U.S. citizen who has loved and served his adopted country.