The Jedi Knights were fictional guardians of peace and justice in "Star Wars."

But there is nothing fictional about the so-called Jedi Knights of the U.S. Army.

They are students in the School of Advanced Military Studies on Fort Leavenworth, where they learn to become high-level strategists at the tactical and operational levels.

The first official reference to SAMS graduates as Jedi Knights came on May 12, 1992, during a meeting of the Committee on Armed Services Military Education Panel in Washington, D.C., according to ret. Col. Kevin Benson in a historical overview of the program.

The program began in 1983 and has produced more than 2,000 graduates.

SAMS graduates played key roles in Operation Just Cause in Panama as well as Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm in Iraq.

"It was about that time that SAMS graduates began to be referred to as Jedi Knights after the cerebral fighters in 'Star Wars,'" said Harry Sarles, the public affairs officer of Army University on Fort Leavenworth. "The first time I heard that term was in the deployed headquarters of the 1st Infantry Division and 7th Corps in 1991. Since then, SAMS planners have been the go-to people to solve tough problems."

This year's SAMS students graduated the 10-month course Thursday at the Lewis and Clark Center on Fort Leavenworth.

The class was comprised of 141 officers, including 14 international officers from nine countries.

Seven federal civilian employees representing five federal agencies also graduated.

Sixteen graduates completed their studies in the Advanced Strategic Leader Studies Program.

Lt. Gen. Gary H. Cheek was the keynote speaker at graduation. Cheek was a 1980 graduate of the United States Military Academy and a 1993 graduate of SAMS.

"The mind truly is the key to victory," Cheek said to the graduates.

Cheek asked the graduates to be adaptable when facing new challenges, be a good teammate to those with whom they serve and to "speak the language of doctrine."

The graduation ceremony honored the top students in the class.

Air Force Maj. James Day received the Col. Thomas Felts Leadership Award, considered the top award for SAMS graduates.

Felts was a SAMS graduate who was killed in action in Iraq in 2006.

Army Maj. Steven J. Ackerson received the Iron Planner Award for best physical fitness.

Patti Bielling of U.S. Army North received the Simons Center Interagency Writing Award.

Army Maj. Woo C. Shin was honored for writing the best monograph for the Advanced Military Studies Program class. Patrick Wesner of the United States Agency for International Development won the same honor for the Advanced Strategic Leader Studies Program.

All of the graduates received the Master of Military Art and Science degree.

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