FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Fifty-four majors, lieutenant colonels and law enforcement leaders completed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation's Command & General Staff Officer Course and received their diplomas at the Columbus (Ga.) Convention & Trade Center May 23. The students represent nine countries: Canada, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru and the U.S.

Colombian Army Lt. Col. Mauricio Esteban, the International Distinguished Graduate, received the General Dwight D. Eisenhower Prize; his U.S. counterpart, Maj. Magaly Thurman, received a similar saber as the General George C. Marshall Prize..

A new record number, 24, of the graduates took a second turn on stage to receive Master's degrees earned during the year. Twenty got the Master of Military Arts and Science and four earned Master's degrees from Troy University. Unique to WHINSEC's award of the MMAS is that candidates can do all coursework including the defense of their theses in either English or Spanish.

The Director General of Panama's National Police, Omar Pinzón, addressed the graduating class and discussed his experiences and lessons learned in his more than 30 years of service. Director Pinzón attended the CGSOC course here at Fort Benning, graduating in 2007. After the graduation, Director Pinzón was inducted into the WHINSEC Hall of Fame, which includes students and faculty of the Institute who later achieved positions of high leadership in service to their own countries.

This course educates and trains intermediate level Army, sister-service, interagency, and partner-nation officers to operate in unified land operations in joint, interagency, and multinational environments as field grade commanders and staff officers. Student body may include officers from all U.S. service components. Students may complete their masters' degrees through any civilian university, or complete a Master of Military Arts and Science (MMAS), awarded by the Command and General Staff College, concurrently in Spanish or English while attending at WHINSEC.

WHINSEC opened in 2001 to provide professional education and training to eligible persons of the nations of the Western Hemisphere within the context of the democratic principles set forth in the Charter of the Organization of American States. A Department of Defense institute run by the U.S. Army, it excels in fostering mutual knowledge, transparency, confidence, and cooperation and in promoting democratic values, respect for human rights, and an understanding of U.S. customs and traditions. The institute has the most extensive democracy, ethics and human rights training in all of DoD.