MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. -- After 21 jam-packed weeks of intensive study, four young Soldiers stood proudly at attention on the stage of Madigan Army Medical Center's Letterman Auditorium on Friday, Jan. 31, to receive their diplomas as newly-minted surgical technologists.With Madigan's command team of Col. Thomas Bundt and Command Sgt. Maj. Victor Laragione looking on from the front row, Col. Thomas Rawlings, the deputy chief of the Department of Anesthesia and Operative Services, stood on the front lip of the stage to speak directly to the 68D class.His three keys to remember included to keep learning, speak up when they see something wrong because they are equal members of the team, and, as Rawlings said, never accept you are, "just a tech."After filing on stage to accept their diplomas from Rawlings, they returned to their seats where Sgt. 1st Class Richard Aquilar followed Rawlings' lead in heading to the far corner of the auditorium to stand in front of the Soldiers and address his thoughts to them.Aguilar, who is a senior operating room technician assigned to the 47th Combat Support Hospital, implored them to recognize how much trust patients place in them. "They don't know you, but they trust you," he said."A hospital is not a hospital without a 68 Delta; you are the heartbeat of the hospital," he exclaimed.The group returned to the stage to receive their Army Medical Department regimental insignias from Aguilar. They have completed the work necessary to add them to their uniforms over their right breast pockets.John Brown, the primary clinical instructor for the program gave the final set of remarks to the graduates.Joining the Army in the early 1970s, Brown was a 68D for years, but noted that before he could become a Delta, he was a Bravo first -- a combat medic. Detailing some of his own service during the Gulf War, he noted that these medics and techs are in the thick of the fight. His unit triaged wounded Soldiers during one battle for 36 hours straight.Brown echoed the words of Rawlings when he also advised the new medical professionals that they are more than techs."You're a Soldier first; remember what you did to get to this point," he said.Brown drew a comparison with their civilian counterparts that made the accomplishment acknowledged by the ceremony duly worth celebrating.The Advanced Individual Training course for the surgical technologist is 9 weeks of Phase I classroom training, demonstrations and simulated learning at the Medical Center of Excellence at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, immediately followed by 12 weeks at one of 12 Army hospitals deeply engaged in hands-on clinical work. Taken together, these 21 weeks garner the students a diploma that, in the civilian medical field takes 2 years to earn.Brown, therefore, remarked, "They are a cut above."