FORT BRAGG, N.C. ― Twenty special-operations Soldiers clad in academic regalia and jump boots crossed the John F. Kennedy Auditorium stage June 3 to receive diplomas from the National Defense University’s College of International Security Affairs.These individuals made up the first class to be awarded fully accredited Master of Arts degrees in strategic-security studies through CISA’s Fort Bragg campus at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.“We’re gathered to recognize the academic accomplishments of 20 special operators who have answered the call for service time and again,” said Garry Reid, the ceremony’s guest speaker and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Combating Terrorism. “What we have here are people with a thirst for challenge and a thirst for adventure.”In their next assignment, these Special Forces, Infantry, Military Information Support Operations and Civil Affairs Soldiers will report to one of the Army’s operational units armed with the ability to think critically, reason academically and challenge assumptions, Reid said.For 10 months, these students"13 commissioned and seven noncommissioned officers"have participated in a demanding schedule of seminars and graduate-level courses. Core courses focused on geostrategy, strategic thought, and power, ideology and legitimacy. Students also selected an area of concentration: irregular warfare or international security studies.“We educate operators, war-fighters and combat service support professionals in the life of the mind, and then turn them back to their environment,” said Vice. Adm. Ann E. Rondeau, NDU President.One of the program’s students will deploy with an operational unit within a week of the graduation ceremony, Rondeau said.These Soldiers will return to the operational force, but their advanced education will play a role throughout their careers.The military needs people who can combine the arts of counterinsurgency and irregular warfare with a well-developed sense of tactical insight, said Reid, who is a retired Special Forces command sergeant major.This degree will propel the graduates along a path into increasingly greater positions of influence and discussions, and they are now armed to speak the language of strategy, policy and academic reasoning, he said.“You have to do the true Special Forces thing, which is to blend in and adopt the culture of an indigenous force,” Reid said. “In this case, your new indigenous force is the large world of policy and academia. If you want to be relevant and you want to influence your leaders’ decisions, then you have to speak the language.”Maj. Gen. Bennet S. Sacolick, the SWCS Commanding General, challenged all special-operations Soldiers to pursue advanced degrees.“If you are sitting in this auditorium and you do not have a plan to get advanced civilian education, then shame on you,” Sacolick said. “If you don’t have an associate’s degree, you need to get one, and then you need to get a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree, if you’re going to function, as I need you to, as a member of our regiments.”SWCS conducts initial qualification and advanced skills training, as well as regional culture and language education, for special-operations Soldiers. The command’s Department of Education led the effort to coordinate the master’s degree program with NDU.“We respect and acknowledge the notion of life-long learning,” Rondeau said. “Learning does not stop today, and it will never stop.”The program mirrors the Master of Arts in Strategic Security Studies degree program offered at NDU’s main campus at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D.C., which is available to personnel from U.S. departments and agencies, congressional staffs, and military and civilian representatives of the international community.