EL PASO, Texas (May 22, 2008) - After completing more than 1,200 hours of instruction during the last nine months, students from Sergeants Major Course Class 58 at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy had one last official mission to complete - graduation.

Minus two dozen of their fellow students who left a month prior to rejoin the force for Army needs, the remaining 642 Class 58 students walked across the stage of Abraham Chavez Theatre in downtown El Paso May 22 to receive their diplomas.

After narrator Jeff Davis read a congratulatory message from Texas governor Rick Perry, Col. Donald Gentry, USASMA commandant, welcomed the distinguished guests, family members and friends.

"It is a terrific day for our Army; it is a terrific day for our international partners and our sister services," Gentry said. "Today, we send leaders back into the force to lead the most valuable asset this country has, and that is our young men and women in uniform."

Gentry lauded Class 58 for enriching the lives of their fellow classmates and the El Paso community.

"You have set the standard in everything you have done. It is going to be tough for people to follow you," he said. "You have been a force of encouragement to each other when times got tough, and you have been a source of encouragement and pride to everyone who has come in contact with you."

Gentry then helped unveil the class scroll, presented by the Armed Forces Committee of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce, before introducing the guest speaker for the event - Gen. William S. Wallace, commanding general of the Army Training and Doctrine Command.

"This is an incredibly awesome sight standing up here - to see such a significant representation of the senior NCO leadership of not only our Army, but our sister services and our allies from other nations," he said. "You truly represent all that is good about our Army, those nations and our Soldiers. It is truly great to be here among so many distinguished warriors."

As someone who has himself endured many graduation ceremonies throughout his career, Wallace said he understood that remarks are best when kept short. He gave an overview of the many initiatives Army and TRADOC officials are undertaking to improve training and the noncommissioned officer education system. Specifically, Wallace noted the changes that have been made in basic and advanced individual training as well as ongoing changes to NCOES and the establishment of the College of the American Soldier. Wallace then turned his attention back to Class 58.

"It is truly great to be here among so many distinguished warriors. You have made a real significant difference in not only your classmates, but in this community as well," he said. "We are Army Strong thanks in large part to our magnificent noncommissioned officers. Each of you, form one of the vertebrae in what is the backbone of our Army."

During the course, Class 58 dedicated more than 34,000 volunteer hours to the El Paso community. They helped build six homes for Habitat for Humanity, raised more than $9,000 for Big Brothers/Sisters, donated hundreds of Christmas gifts for the needy, cleaned up Dyer Street in El Paso, laid wreaths at Fort Bliss National Cemetery, and much more.

"The highlights of the class are the tremendous amount of volunteer work we did in the community. I think out of everything we have done, that is where we probably take the most pride," said Sgt Maj. Scott Dooley, the Class 58 division commander. "We did a tremendous amount of work with the wounded warriors, we built handicapped ramps for the underprivileged families."

Dooley also noted the importance of attending the nine month resident version of the course, stating that the networking and sharing of experiences is incredibly beneficial. Fellow student New Zealand Warrant Officer 1 Shane G. Vooght, recipient of the International Leadership Award, agreed.

"I think the comradeship and networking is probably second to none," he said. "I thoroughly enjoyed myself. There are 34 other countries represented here and I have been able to network with them and learn some ideas of how they do some things, as well as the Americans. We all sort of swap ideas."

While attending the academy, students are also given the opportunity to attend college courses in order to complete their civilian education, and more than 300 students earned degrees - associates, bachelors and masters - while attending the course. With their civilian and military diplomas in tow, the graduates enthusiastically poured from the theatre also carrying with them the satisfaction of another "Mission Complete!"