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AFRICOM Change of Command

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Stuttgart, Germany, Wednesday, March 09, 2011

First and foremost, I’d like to thank all the men and women serving at AFRICOM, who under General Ward’s leadership successfully tackled the challenge of setting up a new combatant command. 

The first leader of any organization defines it more than any other.  In under three years General Ward has forged a command that ably protects vital U.S. interests, promotes stability, and builds key capabilities among our allies.  I’d also like to thank Kip’s wife Joyce, his son KJ, and his daughter Kahni for their sacrifices and support along the way.  Today, we’re also honoring Joyce for her tireless work both for the people of Africa and for our troops and families stationed far from home.

General Ward’s success here at AFRICOM has been no surprise for those of us who know his impressive four decade long career, including a remarkable 13 command and numerous staff assignments – posts that fostered a range of critical skills this position demanded.  To name just a few:

  • He coordinated the day-to-day activities of our forces operating across dozens of far-flung countries, as Deputy Commander of U.S. European Command;
  • He commanded the Stabilization Force during Operation Joint Force in Sarajevo;
  • He led the 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd Brigade during Operation Restore Hope in Somalia; and finally
  • He endured and survived multiple Pentagon tours, most notably as Vice Director of Operations, J-3.

When we first announced the creation of AFRICOM, with its regional focus and institutional inclusion of State and USAID personnel, there was – to put it mildly – a certain amount of skepticism.  Some feared the command represented the first steps to a major US military presence in Africa, others that it would lead to an unacceptable militarization of U.S. foreign and development policy.  But as I said then and still believe, when crime, terrorism, natural disasters, economic turmoil, ethnic fissures, and disease can be just as destabilizing as traditional military threats, we need to fuse old understandings of security with new concepts of how security, stability, and development go hand-in-hand. 

From the moment he took command, Kip Ward demonstrated the worth of this concept by keeping his eye on the mission – promoting African security by building the capacity of partner nations and organizations. 

In Liberia, as that nation rebuilds from its horrific civil war, AFRICOM has worked closely with and through the State Department to help Liberians provide for their own security – mentoring Liberian forces and helping the country develop a coast guard to fight drug smugglers and human trafficking. 

Our troops have partnered with the African Union as mentors to their mission in Somalia, AMISOM, which less than a month ago successfully shut down arms smuggling operations and seized key al-Shabab bases in Mogadishu. 

As Kip himself put it at a think tank event last year, African leaders are no longer asking “Why is AFRICOM here?” but rather “What more can AFRICOM do to help?"

The potential for progress across the African continent has never been greater, nor the other challenges.  In North Africa, we see people fighting for political change, from  a revolution in Libya to southern Sudan, a new nation coming into being, and throughout, nations are struggling to give their fast-growing populations both basic necessities and greater opportunities while fighting the scourges of terrorism, corruption, and piracy.  AFRICOM must continue its role in promoting this progress, preventing conflict, and bolstering basic stability, stability that serves the best interests of the United States and of the peoples of Africa.

General Ward will be a tough act to follow, but I believe few are better suited to that task than General Carter Ham, who in over 35 years of service has never shied away from a tough job, be it peacekeeping in Macedonia, commanding Multi-National Brigade-North in Mosul during the darkest days of the Iraq war, leading the investigation into the tragic Fort Hood shootings or ushering the Pentagon’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell survey through a political minefield. 

Carter, I’ve been told that all those years ago you only became an officer because a very persuasive staff sergeant submitted your application to ROTC for you, then ordered you to attend.  We’re all very grateful to that sergeant.  With Christi by your side, I know you’ll accomplish great things here. 

Kip, thank you for your life of dedicated and selfless service to our nation.  I wish you and Joyce all the best as you begin this next chapter of your lives.

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