FORT SAM HOUSTON, Tx --- Eighteen Soldiers made history as they were inaugurated into the Army-Fayetteville State University Master of Social Work Program during a ceremony June 23 at Wood Auditorium.

The class is the first in the new graduate program, created through a partnership between the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School and Fayetteville State University, N.C.

Col. Joseph Pecko, director, Army-Fayetteville State University MSW program, said, "Every magnificent beginning, such as the one we are present at today, has a history and that history is shaped by good and hard-working people."

"Our new MSW program not only allows us to provide more social work officers it also allows us to deliver them with both a sterling educational experience and an Army-relevant indoctrination," said Col. John Luciano, dean, Academy of Health Sciences. "The result is a social work officer who will be immediately and fully mission capable."

Capt. Delores Martinez, MSW student, said she was very excited about the opportunity.

"This is an absolute monument to be a part of, and I am proud to be here and to be in the first class."

The first class of 18 Soldiers includes a faculty comprising three active-duty and four civilian instructors, all with their doctorate in social work.

The course will include two tracks: a 13-month track for Soldiers with a non-social work bachelor's degree and an eight-month advanced standing track for students with a degree in social work from an accredited program. Students graduate with an MSW and will take their initial license before they leave Fort Sam Houston.

During the class, students will learn to understand the dynamics of human behavior in the context of their social environment, particularly in relation to the military experience. After graduation, students will be assigned to behavioral health departments throughout the world where they will conduct assessments and provide interventions to individuals and groups under the supervision of a licensed clinical social worker.

As social workers in the Army, graduates will provide individual counseling for Soldiers and their Families, whether it's concerning substance abuse, physical or emotional abuse, or just help with daily challenges. In two years, they will have the opportunity to test for their independent practitioner license to become a LCSW.

"I'm looking forward to this opportunity to help fellow Soldiers who are coming back from Iraq. I want to be able to help them and their Families in any way," said Cpt. Teresa Murray, MSW student. "This graduate program could not have happened at a better time."

Pecko said, "I have no doubt that the Army will benefit greatly from this new partnership with FSU. It is my hope that, in keeping with the outstanding reputations of other AMEDDC&S graduate programs, this partnership will take both us and FSU to new heights of academic excellence and social work services."