By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
SINDELFINGEN, Germany, March 9, 2011 - The Defense Department's newest combatant command bid farewell to its inaugural commander here today.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates officiated at the ceremony and spoke to the audience at the Sindelfingen city hall near Africom's headquarters in Stuttgart.
"First and foremost, I'd like to thank the men and women serving at Africom who, under General Ward's leadership, successfully tackled the challenge of setting up a new combatant command," Gates said. "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," Gates added.
The secretary praised Ward's decades of service, which included 13 command and numerous staff assignments.
"When we first announced the creation of Africom, with its regional focus and institutional inclusion of State and [U.S. Agency for International Development] personnel, there was -- to put it mildly -- a certain amount of skepticism," Gates said.
As he said then and still believes, the secretary noted, "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."
Ward put those concepts into action as commander, Gates said, and Ham will be an able successor.
AFRICOM stood up in October 2007 as the newest unified combatant command of the U.S. Department of Defense. As one of six that are regionally focused, it is devoted solely to Africa and conducts sustained security engagement through military-to-military programs and activities with African countries.
During the ceremony, Gates presented Ward with the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, and the general's wife, Joyce, with the Distinguished Public Service Award.
Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also spoke at the ceremony, noting that Ward has served with distinction during his long career.
"[He] has been a soldier for over 40 years, a statesman, a commander -- battle-hardened," Cartwright said. Ward and his spouse have done "a fantastic job" in Africom, he added.
"It has been, and will be, their legacy," the vice chairman said.
Ward spoke before officially handing the command over to Ham, and said partnership was the key to his approach as Africom commander.
"We make a difference," he said. "And not because we teach someone how to shoot straight, or how to drop a bomb accurately, or how to drive a ship in the right direction, but because by partnering with our friends and teammates, they see the best of America."
Ham spoke briefly at the ceremony's conclusion, pledging to continue the command's mission to help find "African solutions to African security challenges."
Ward began his military career as an infantry officer in 1971. He has served in a variety of positions, including that of commander from company to division level.
Ham most recently served as commander of U.S. Army Europe and as co-chair of the Defense Department's special "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" review board.
Robert M. Gates
Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright
Army Gen. Carter F. Ham
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U.S. Africa Command
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