FORT SILL, Okla. (July 13, 2017) -- "It is your character that defines you as a Soldier and as a person so do not let anyone or anything steal your character of what you know to be right."

That was the final thought Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen Jr., U.S. Military Academy superintendent, left with basic combat training Soldiers July 7, during their graduation ceremony at Fort Sill.

Almost 170 Soldiers from D Battery, 1st Battalion, 31st Field Artillery's Class No. 39-17, as well as 434th Field Artillery Brigade staff, families and friends heard the general's speech at Cache Creek Chapel.

Capt. Jeff Caslen, D/1-31st FA commander, and the general's son, welcomed the crowd. He said in just 67 days the trainees learned values and discipline through tough, realistic training.

"Maybe you have already heard stories about the sting of the gas chamber, the nervousness of throwing live hand grenades, the anxiety of rappelling Treadwell Tower, or the pride of passing the final Army Physical Fitness Test," said Captain Caslen, who was conducting his final graduation before his permanent change of station move. "They trained on multiple weapon systems, foot marched more than 60 kilometers, and learned how to perform lifesaving measures."

Captain Caslen introduced the general, who he said is the longest serving active-duty officer in the military with over 42 years.

The general first thanked the families and friends of the graduates.

"Every one of our newest Soldiers will probably tell you that the past 10 weeks were some of the most challenging experiences of their lives," the general said. "A huge part of their success is thanks to your love, your support and encouragement and motivation."

General Caslen ordered the graduates to keep in touch with their families and friends because, "They will continue to be a source of encouragement for you."

The most important thing that was learned in BCT was teamwork, the general said to the graduates.

"You've begun to appreciate the brotherhood and sisterhood and pure camaraderie gleaned from these experiences: sitting in the freezing rain next to your battle buddy, or sharing a cold MRE (meals ready to eat) at 2 o'clock in the morning, or nursing blisters from a 16-klick road march," he said. "These bonds will last a lifetime and run deeper than your own blood brothers and sisters.

"Today, with the completion of basic combat training, you become members of an elite group of men and women in the profession of arms ... who have dedicated themselves to the service and defense of our nation and to the American people," General Caslen said. From Saratoga to Gettysburg to Normandy to Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, "wherever the stakes are the highest and whatever history has demanded of them, the American Soldier rose to the challenge each and every time both at home and around the globe answering the call of duty."

The general went on to quote retired Lt. Col. Randolph White, a BCT battalion commander, who spoke to his graduating Soldiers at Fort Benning, Ga., in 2006.

"When policy makers finish talking, when the debate has ended and when the negotiations have failed and orders are given, it will become your mission to execute national policy for the last 300 to 500 meters of any given objective."

The general ended by offering advice to the Army's newest Soldiers.

- "Draw your energy from the days ahead from your family and loved ones. They will often be your greatest source of strength.
- This is the life that you have chosen. It is not risk-free and it is not easy. There is no more noble profession than the one you are about to enter.
- I will never apologize for being an American or for that matter being a Soldier, and don't you ever feel that you have to, either.
- Stand tall. Suck it up when things get hard. Remember that they can and usually will.
- Keep you weapons clean and you bayonet sharp.
- Always be proud to be called a Soldier.

"Remember, as this nation's 21st century warrior, America is relying on you as you assume your post on the national wall of defense."