American Forces Press Service
Jan. 26, 2009 - The first class of National Military Academy of Afghanistan cadets graduated yesterday in a ceremony here, becoming what the Afghan president called "the heartbeat of the entire nation." "I am very proud to be a part of this ceremony, which is a very important and vital step toward a stable and self-sufficient country," Hamid Karzai, keynote speaker for the event, said. "Today you all are graduating because of the hope of the mothers who have lost their fathers, brothers and husbands while defending this country."
The academy is a four-year, university-level institution designed to turn cadets into competent officers, officials said.
More than 1,500 people attended the graduation ceremony, including Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan, and Afghan government and coalition officials.
Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said academy graduates will be recognized throughout the world. "The Afghan National Army has written and will continue to write golden pages in the history of this country by serving and dying for this country," Wardak said.
Officials from the Afghan Defense Ministry and the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., developed the plan for the academy about five years ago, aiming to produce more efficient, educated leaders within the Afghan National Army.
An academy concept plan was signed in November 2003 by representatives from Afghanistan, the United States and Turkey. Since the academy's inception, staff and faculty from West Point, and more recently, the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., have contributed to the academy's efforts.
The concept plan includes a representation of ethnicities from 33 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces within the cadet corps and the staff and faculty. Though the first graduating class comprised all males, academy officials said female integration is soon to come.
Upon graduation, each cadet, or officer in training, will have completed a major in engineering, computer science, general engineering, sciences or legal studies, and be commissioned as a second lieutenant with a 10-year service agreement. Future academy majors include leadership and management, military history and English.
The officers will then serve in infantry, artillery, armor, aviation, logistics or communication branches of the Afghan National Army.
As officials use technology to reach out to the population and encourage under-represented ethnicities to apply, the number of applicants is expected to increase from 360 applicants to nearly 2,000 applicants in 2012, academy officials said.