FORT SILL, Okla., Feb. 14, 2019 -- Pvt. Kelly Clarke brought a determination to basic combat training to become a Soldier.

He ultimately claimed distinguished honor graduate of Class No. 08-19. But, to achieve his dream, he and his fellow trainees had to accomplish a final four-day event called the Forge, a rigorous new requirement to become a Soldier.

Training and Doctrine Command recently increased the difficulty of BCT following a 2017 study that revealed new Soldiers arriving at their units "undisciplined and out of shape," according to an Army Times article published in September. The Forge is part of an overall effort to better prepare new Soldiers to be ready for combat deployments immediately at their first assigned duty stations.

The Forge is the last field training exercise occurring either at week seven or week eight during the nine weeks of BCT at Fort Sill. It consists of over 40 miles of road marching, hand-to-hand techniques, combat obstacles, and patrol base coverage of over 80 hours.

D Battery, 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery trainees conducted their Forge exercise Jan. 22-25.

The planning of the exercise began under the leadership of Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) Donale Miles and 2nd Lt. Christopher Johnson, battery executive officer.

"Delta Battery executed a Rehearsal of Concept (ROC) drill for the Forge, the first one executed in the battalion under the new program of instruction. The trainees learned the valuable lessons on movement, reaction to contact, timing, and sequencing for their four-day operation they were about to endure. I was extremely impressed by this ROC drill, it rivaled battery ROC drills I have seen in Forces Command units," said Lt. Col. Eric Kunak, 1-79th FA commander.

Battalion Command Sgt. Maj. John Bamba called the Forge a welcome addition to basic training.

"The four-day event definitely tests the trainees' mental and physical toughness," he said. "After successful completion of the Forge, every trainee will undoubtedly bond through their shared experience of the event."

With an aim to match the Army's intent to add rigor to BCT, 109 of D Battery's original 145 trainees made it to the Forge," said 1st Sgt. Mica Snell.

Rigor came after a short night's rest as trainees got no more than four hours of sleep. After a full day and a half of walking nonstop, sleep deprivation kicked in. It was hard, but mental toughness and dedication to achieve greatness was what kept the trainees going.

"Their mental fortitude was tested and those who completed all the marching and all training events have really earned my respect," added Snell.

Miles said teamwork was crucial in this last stage of training.

"You just have to be a team player and remain focused on the mission and get it done," Miles continued.

In regard to that, the Forge symbolizes the similar toughened method to correct those deficiencies.

"Soldiering begins here," Johnson said. "You have to earn it and the Forge just make it harder to achieve. The best will last until the end."

D/1-79th FA trainees responded to the increased rigor with a positive attitude.

"When we took our first step of the 16 kilometers to Liberty City, I told myself there is no turning back and I will do whatever it takes to motivate my fellow trainees to take it one step at a time, and everything will be all right," said Clarke.

The training exercise concluded with a Rite of Passage ceremony, an Army tradition where the trainees are now called Soldiers and earned the right to wear their U.S. Army patch and beret.

"I am proud to call those who finished Soldiers," said Snell.