All across the country, high school and college students are celebrating the end of a long four year journey with commencement. The same was celebrated at the Rock Island Arsenal Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center when 11 people graduated from the Machinist Apprenticeship Program Friday.

The Apprentice Program at Rock Island Arsenal can trace its roots to just before World War I. The first class graduated in 1910. Today, the program is partnered with Black Hawk College, a partnership that has helped the program expand and improve.

"These machinist graduates will continue a tradition, providing a backbone to a highly-skilled workforce who are all working diligently to supply our nation's warfighters with the best equipment possible," Rock Island Arsenal Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center Commander Col. Craig S. Cotter said.

The current apprenticeship program has been linked with Black Hawk College for three years.

"When you partner with education, it betters your relationship with the whole community," said Chairman of the Apprenticeship Committee Lon Lukavsky.

The four year program consists of more than 700 hours of classroom training as well as more than 7,000 hours of on the job training. The training program is certified through the Department of Labor, Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training.

After completion of the program, many graduates find jobs at the RIA-JMTC while others venture into private industry.

"Many of our leaders at RIA-JMTC, have been graduates of the apprenticeship program," Lukavsky said. "We have also had graduates that have been successful in private industry or started their own business."

"The importance of this program can be realized when you consider how imperative machining is throughout the manufacturing processes," Cotter said. "Most items produced here require some sort of precision work, something only a machinist can provide."

Many of graduates take pride in knowing that they are working on items that will help support the warfighter in battle. 53-year-old Shawn L. Kraft had 11 grandchildren at the ceremony today. Kraft entered the program off a dare from her son who graduated the program.

"As someone who is older, I take pride in knowing that I am helping those men and women who are fighting for my freedom," Kraft said.

East Moline Mayor, John Thodos gave the keynote address. He stressed the importance of the work that is done at the Rock Island Arsenal.

"What you make here protects our men and women in the armed services," said East Moline Mayor John Thodos. "For parents with children in the service, what you do here does not go un-noted."

More than 1,200 have graduated from the apprenticeship program since its inception in 1910.

2009 Graduating Class members include: Scott E. Ambort - Long Grove, Iowa; Colin M. Booker - Davenport, Iowa; Eric J. Calloway - Rock Island, Ill; Bradley L. Hessell - East Moline, Ill; Andrew J. Hudson - Bettendorf, Iowa; Shawn L. Kraft - Annawan, Ill; Matthew M. Nelson - Davenport, Iowa; Scott L. Parker - Silvis, Ill; Quentin R. Rodriguez -Moline, Ill; Charles P. Till - Dubuque, Iowa.