CARLISLE, Pa. -- The flags of U.S. states and 70 countries fluttered in the cool morning breeze as members of the Army War College resident class of 2017 arrived on the Carlisle Barracks' parade field for their graduation, ready to assume a distinguished place among strategic leaders after 10 months of graduate-level study.

Almost 400 military officers of the U.S. Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard, as well as officers representing more than 70 partner countries, walked the stage to receive a U.S. Army War College diploma and, for most, a Master's degree in Strategic Studies. Several students accepted additional honors for their writing, public speaking or leadership achievements during the academic year.

"This class will always hold a special place in my heart," said Commandant Maj. Gen. Bill Rapp, noting this would be his last resident class graduation before his retirement. His remarks celebrated the students' significant achievements in a challenging but informative curriculum. He also highlighted the faculty's professionalism and skill as teachers and mentors.

Following his remarks, Rapp introduced graduation speaker Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, with a description borrowed from William Tecumseh Sherman: "It is enough for the world to know he is a Soldier." Rapp recounted Allyn's combat leadership from platoon to corps, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his leadership of U.S. Forces Command. "His steady leadership of Soldiers at all levels has been remarkable in these turbulent times," Rapp said.

'COMFORTABLE IN UNCERTAINTY'

Allyn weaved personal and aspirational themes in his remarks to the students. He recalled his own post-war college years as a strategic leader, and anticipated the graduates' service at the strategic level.

"My war college class [of 2001] fulfilled our role as military leaders, learning to be comfortable in uncertainty and changing environments during an extraordinarily challenging period in our nation's history," Allyn said.

"The leaders seated among us this morning will soon be responsible for leading change with an uncertain mix of forces, an even more uncertain budget, and in an arguably more dangerous and more complex world than the one we faced at the turn of the millennium," he said.

Allyn urged the graduates to take his lessons and apply them to their future, whether in joint duty at a combatant command or service, as a division chief in the Pentagon, or in any number of awaiting duties.

"What you do as strategic leaders determines where Soldiers fight, how they fight, and with what equipment they fight," he said. "The warfighters around the globe today are why we exist…In our profession, we spell TRUST in all-caps. It is foundational to what we do and unconditional. As strategic leaders, we maintain trust with the All-Volunteer Force by doing everything we can every day to fight for their best interests."

"Strategic leadership matters," Allyn continued. "It determines whether our joint force wins or loses; personalize your commitment, be a passionate advocate, and maintain the trust of those we lead by doing all you can to fight for their best interests."

"You have many difficult tasks ahead of you, but we know this terrain and you and your teammates are more than ready," he encouraged the graduates. "Network daily and remember to stay connected to your war college classmates. Leverage this elite team to achieve exponential results no matter where you find yourself in need -- or able to help others."

"I sleep well because the leaders we are blessed with in our joint force, molded by 15 plus years in the crucible of combat, and now, broadened with a strategic education, remain our asymmetric advantage," Allyn concluded.

Following Allyn's remarks, family and friends cheered as each graduate received congratulations from Dean Richard Lacquement, Provost Lance Betros, Rapp and Allyn.

IN THE GRADUATES' WORDS

"I got to interact with my Army counterparts and also the International Fellows," Navy Cmdr. Shannon Corey said of his experience at the war college. "Relationships and friendships forged here are something you walk away with and you have for the rest of your life."

For Nigerian Col. Kapeh Kabaju Alwali Kazir, the Army War College gave him the critical skills he needed to take his leadership to the next level. "I came in as an officer trained and functional at the operational level, and now I'm going back as an officer trained to be functional at the strategic level," he said.

"The American environment and the American people have been very, very friendly," he added. "I sincerely appreciate everything that has gone on here. "I have tremendous respect for this college and the United States."

"We've heard over and over throughout the year that it's not what you know, but who you know: the people that I've met here and the relationships built over the year, both in seminar and then in electives and all the different social functions," said Army Lt. Col. Anne Hessinger.

The future ability to pick up a phone with a fellow graduate, and start with a shared experience, is the best part of the resident education, she said.

Allyn reflected on these enduring relationships in his remarks. "You have many difficult tasks ahead of you, but we know this terrain and you and your teammates are more than ready," he encouraged the graduates.

"Network daily and remember to stay connected to your war college classmates," he advised. "Leverage this elite team to achieve exponential results no matter where you find yourself in need -- or where you find yourself able to help others."