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TRANSCRIPT: U.S. AFRICOM Commander Discusses Contributions of African Americans at Black History Month event Hosted by U.S. Embassy Monrovia, Liberia
During a recent trip to Africa that included stops in four West African countries, General William E. Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command, spoke at a Black History Month event hosted by the Public Diplomacy Section of the U.S. Embassy in
During a recent trip to Africa that included stops in four West African countries, General William E. Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command, spoke at a Black History Month event hosted by the Public Diplomacy Section of the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia, February 10, 2011.

Supporting the U.S. Embassy's Library Speaker Series honoring Black History Month, Ward spoke to an audience of more than 100 guests, largely young adults from local universities, on the topic of "African Americans in the United States Military." Ward discussed the contributions of African American service members, highlighting several who had served in Liberia. Ward touched briefly on the mission of U.S. Africa Command and his nearly 40 years of service in the U.S. Army. He also challenged the young people of Liberia to seek ways in which they can contribute to the continued development of their country.

"So I liken the new Armed Forces of Liberia to Liberia's youth, a symbol of opportunity and progress, a new start that will help promote peace and stability, something that all of us should take pride in. I also get excited thinking about how much potential there is represented here, young adults hungry to make a mark on what you do and where you are, but it's not just what you do that counts. But it's also how you go about doing it."

The complete transcript is included below:

U.S. AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I'm not going to read General Ward's very extensive bio. You have copies of it in your booklet. But I'd just like to say that General Ward, since I've known him -- and we originally met in 2007, I think, General Ward, when we were in the process of formulating AFRICOM. And General Ward was selected as the commander of AFRICOM. And since that time, he has forged out of basically nothing a command that is respected and present all over the continent of Africa.

There were lots of doubts about what AFRICOM was, what AFRICOM would become and what it would mean to the people of Africa. We now know after three years of working with AFRICOM that it is not over that we thought it was going to be but it is the face of General Ward. General Ward has had an extensive background. He was the first commander of U.S. Africa Command. He is one of six -- Africa Command is one of six geographic commands within the Department of Defense unified command structure.

Prior to assuming that position, General Ward was the deputy commander, Headquarters, U.S. European Command, Stuttgart, with responsibility for Africa. He had previously served as the deputy commanding general chief of staff to U.S. Army Europe and 7th Army. While in this capacity he was selected by the secretary of state to serve as the United States security coordinator for Israel-Palestinian Authority where he served from March through December of 2005.

This is not General Ward's first visit to Liberia. He has been here many times. He is a friend of Liberia and he has, I think I can say without any doubt, been infected by Liberia's warm hospitality. And I know that this will not be his last visit here. I won't waste any more of your time. You came to hear General Ward. Let me introduce General Kip Ward. (Applause.)

GENERAL WILLIAM E. WARD: Thank you, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield. The ambassador has a big voice like me and when she talks, things start reverberating and jumping around and rolling off the walls and that's a good thing because it gets folks' attention. Getting folks' attention is okay. So Ambassador, thank you for those very kind comments and the introduction.

If my mother were in this room tonight, she would say, now, that's my son, all that stuff, that's not him. He's just a little guy from Baltimore, Maryland, with a bit of ambition who has been a pretty good fellow for most of his life, most of the time, a little bit of mischief every now and then but nothing too serious that he could never recover from and he's tried to learn as he's gone along.

And to have an opportunity to return to Liberia to once again see this magnificent country with all of its potential and to be able to talk to those who are in positions to take it to reach that potential is indeed a joy, a pleasure and privilege and I'm happy to be here again.

As the ambassador said, not my first time, but to be here once again to be among wonderful, wonderful friends, wonderful, wonderful partners. So I am happy to be here. I don't know what this room is typically used for but indeed it's packed tonight and I know that even as I came in as I was shown a part of the exhibit I saw some folks even on the other side and they called it the overflow room, the overflow area, folks from the Armed Forces of Liberia and the Liberian Coast Guard as well as the regimental sergeant major who I know is over there as well.

So in addition to the embassy staff and country team personnel and other members of the local community, the Armed Forces of Liberia are certainly well-represented here this evening.

Let me congratulate you here, the public diplomacy section of the embassy, the embassy, the ambassador for indeed taking time to recognize, to highlight, to cause those of us who may not know as much about what it meant to be an American of African ancestry in the forming and framing of the United States of America and how those deeds, acts, thoughts, words and ideas have been such a contributing force in causing our nation to be what it is.

All not happening overnight, but clearly something that we all take great pride in in knowing. The other thing that I say during these occasions is that, you know, celebrating any special commemoration of contributions of a people to its greater society is clearly not only for those people. It's for indeed the entire society so that all of us, all of us, can have a better understanding what each of us has done in contributing to our nation.

And in this case, the opportunity to talk about the contributions of Africans, African Americans to an audience that might not know the total history, but just if nothing else to let all of us know that the struggles, the ideas, the ideals, the goals, the vision that we see as a part of what entered the making of America is a vision of humanity, it's a common vision. It's not anything at all that is reserved for one peoples, one nation, one part of our globe.

And so to share in acknowledging those contributions, there are lessons for all of us to take, to understand, to be mindful of how these are such important, important activities as we go forward in a way that causes the quest for equality, the quest for equal and fair treatment, the quest for being able to use an old Army term that I still love today -- to be all that you can be -- is indeed a universal question.

And indeed by maintaining our drive towards it, it will indeed eventually triumph over oppression. African American history month that we celebrate this month of February is only designed to make special mention of it. Indeed, I think we celebrate the contributions of Americans throughout the year and we take an opportunity now to highlight how diversity indeed is a characteristic strength of a nation and its people, a strength.

It's played a key role in the contributions leading to America's rise in prominence throughout the 20th century. Our country is a country of many different groups, the great melting pot so to speak and as described by previous generations, it is that diversity that we've achieved that causes us to be where we are today, still not perfect, still not perfect but to be sure, recognizing the fact that we can, if we work together, if we take advantage of all our citizens, we have a better chance of reaching a goal that would in fact serve all of our people.

Liberia also has a rich culture with much diversity while at the same time sharing common bonds and a long history with America. This is why America and Liberia have a special kinship and why it means so much for me to be here today, not only to celebrate the Liberian Armed Forces Day with you tomorrow, but because meeting with you -- and I see a lot of young faces in this room and that's good. That's good.

That motivates me. Young folk motivate me and I think what you do and your ideas for tomorrow continue to inspire me. From the diversity that exists here in both places comes ideas, from those ideas come opportunities, and from those opportunities come contributions, contributions that you will make to the continued formation of your society in a positive, positive way.

So I liken the new Armed Forces of Liberia to Liberia's youth, a symbol of opportunity and progress, a new start that will help promote peace and stability, something that all of us should take pride in.

I also get excited thinking about how much potential there is represented here, young adults hungry to make a mark on what you do and where you are but it's not just what you do that counts. But it's also how you go about doing it. And how you go about doing it is reflected in the content of your character, famous words used by Martin Luther King, Jr., talking about how he would wish to be judged, as all of us, not what we look like, not our ethnic origin or religious background.

Who are we as an individual, as a person, the content of our character and any of us who judge another human being otherwise I think ought to take stock in that approach. It is indeed the content of our character that defines us, that causes us to be who we are and hopefully who others see us -- how others see us.

Now, some of you may be familiar with the stories of famous Americans who helped catapult us to where we are today. I've mentioned Martin Luther King, Jr., the famous judge, lawyer, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the Tuskegee Airmen, Buffalo soldiers, Montford Point Marines, Jesse Owens and I won't go through that list because that's what you do as you understand the history of African Americans.

A great exhibit that is here in this building helps to also highlight some of those individuals and groups. But in each case their character defined their actions and their actions influenced America as a nation. But we cannot begin to like us when they and we accomplish something great. Likely the same thing was even being done by others of a different background or race, all inspiring us to be our best.

It's always a team effort, a team that supports each other in some very, very special ways. And we live in a better place because of the totality that we are as a people. I can speak for days about the very positive impact that African American military men and women have had on U.S.-Liberia relations and these concepts of character and team resonate with all of them.

Character matters. It inspires and its impact is powerful. It influences actions. It makes positive differences. Character means doing what's right even when faced with challenged. Let me give you three examples of those who epitomize those traits, who refused to recognize the idea of defeat or submission. They're remembered and honored not only for their contributions to U.S.-Liberian relations but for their courage and inspiration.

Colonel Charles Young, you know that name, you know that name, born in 1864, small town in Kentucky, the son of former slaves, father, a Civil War veteran, graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, only the third African American to do so at the time and distinguished himself throughout history as a Buffalo soldier in the U.S. 10th Calvary.

Now, despite the extreme challenges that he faced, he was viewed in ways that caused him to say, I am first a professional soldier who happens to be a black man. In 1911, Colonel Young was selected to represent the United States of America as the U.S. military attaché here in Monrovia. You are aware of that and for three years he served as an expert advisor to the Liberian government and took a direct role supervising the construction of Liberia's infrastructure and nascent military.

Now, to Colonel Young, efficiency, respect and duty to country were the important things. In 1918, Colonel Young was once again assigned to Liberia as military attaché. Now, we lost Colonel Young during that assignment for in 1922 while on a research exhibition to Nigeria, he died.

But his dedication to duty, his dedication to service to his country and his people, both in the United States and abroad guided his actions, gave him strength and helped solidify the strong foundation that U.S. and Liberia relations still are based upon today. This is a relationship that's marked by mutual respect and mutual goals for the betterment of all of our people.

Another inspiring military man whose character and contributions made a difference, Brigadier General Benjamin Oliver Davis, Sr., also highlighted in your display. General Davis, born in 1877, first African American to hold the rank of general in the United States Army. He was also the first military attaché to Liberia. You get it, this thing? Military folks in Liberia, history, relations, heritage, tradition. Now, he preceded Colonel Young, who I just spoke about, by a few years.

But in honor of General Davis' service, he was given the grade of commander of the order of the star of Africa by the government of Liberia, pretty big deal. He maintained a strong connection with Liberia and the Liberian people. In 1947, he returned to represent the United States at the 100th anniversary of then Liberia's independence. Now, General Davis retired from the military in 1948, the year that President Harry Truman signed the executive order that ended segregation in the United States military.

Now, towards the end of his life, General Davis summed up his career by saying, I did my duty. That's what I set out to do, to show that I could make my way if I knew my job. Talking about being good at what you do, didn't say because he was a soldier, if I knew my job. Regardless of what that job would be, knowing it, being the very best at it and letting that speak for itself by how you conduct yourself.

That's what defines our military today, opportunities based on what you do, not the color of your skin, not whether you are a man or a woman.

Now, there are a lot of stories I could talk -- tell you about, our common experiences and intertwined history. We could talk about the 41st Combat Engineer Regiment, an African American unit known as the Singing Engineers that helped construct Roberts Field, then, now, Roberts International Airport during World War II. I could talk about your president, my president.

We are tied together in so many ways by deep bonds of shared experiences. These bonds continue today as a joint team of United States Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen provide support to Liberia as a part of a larger United States government and international effort to transform elements of the Liberian security sector for the benefit of Liberian people.

Now, given this transformation, the Armed Forces of Liberia and the Coast Guard are looking for folks to continue to help them be all that they can be.

So choosing that path is good but whatever career path is chosen by those of you who are about to enter the sector of your own independence, you do it committed to something bigger than yourself, something that says, I will be the very best I can be at what I choose to do and being in a place that affords you that opportunity because of who you are as a person, not any other characteristic.

Now, I say this in ways that being the best you can be oftentimes requires sacrifice, certainly requires commitment for something greater than what you may personally achieve. I often ask my soldiers and my sailors and my airmen, my Marines, what have you done today to make your teammates better because that's what it's about. Service is about doing something for your fellow human being. That causes us to be in a place where we elevate our entire society.

Now, my inspiration for being a soldier is reflected in the service of my father who was a World War II veteran, a combat engineer in the Pacific, saw opportunities for him upon his release from active duty after the Second World War. And he didn't have the opportunities that I had but clearly he paved the way, just as others have paid the way for us here and how we take advantage of that legacy, how we take advantage of the shoulders that have paved the way for us is indeed our challenge, our mission.

We've come a long way from those days when things were so difficult but we still have a ways to go. Liberia has come a long way. Today the Armed Forces of Liberia and we'll see tomorrow a model as a force full of opportunity, not fully achieved that goal just yet but the opportunity is there.

By trusting and empowering young people of any society, the society can progress. Now, that was the vision of Martin Luther King when he talked about his little girls and his little boys being able to make a difference if they were given opportunity, opportunity that when presented allows all of us to contribute in ways that indeed make a difference.

There are values of protection that we all see as important. There are values as rights of human beings that we see as important. There are values that respect civil authority that we see as important and these are shared and common values, values that are binding all of us together, brothers and sisters who value each other, who promote decency and goodwill towards all. The military in many ways has served and will continue to serve as a launching pad for that.

I recall a story, a personal story, where I had the privilege of knowing members of the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment. This was an all-black segregated parachute unit in World War II. These men were not allowed to conduct parachute operations as a part of the larger 82nd Airborne Division. When they were sent to war, they came back with some experiences and stories that would chill your spine.

In spite of that, they carried on in ways that continued to uphold the values that they had as human beings and even before President Truman signed that executive order that ended segregation in our Army, these men knew that by their example they would pave the way for others to come behind. So even though they faced those hardships, they continued to conduct themselves with dignity in a professional way.

They knew their position. They knew their jobs and they left no doubt about the content of their character. And through their demonstrated actions and their performance, they were able to dispel all sorts of rumor and innuendo and led the charge prior to that desegregation order being signed that made it very plain and apparent that they too were worthy citizens making contributions to our great nation.

Those stories are abundant throughout our glorious history, as brief as it might be, from the field of medicine, to the arts, sports, entertainment, education, the sciences. And so you only need to know that when you stay true to who you are, beliefs, ideals and even though times may come when you feel, well, is this fair, you never let that consume you and cause you to be different than who you are because in the end, equality will always triumph over oppression.

This month as we reflect on the many ways African Americans have shaped our nation's history, we capitalize on those lessons learned. We see our integrated and diverse military as a force multiplier, not a force divider. Utilization of individuals' talents and their placement based on ability is more important than ethnicity, sex, religion or background. You can achieve your goals if you set your mind on it.

You apply yourself in productive ways; you prepare to accept the opportunity that will come. And as the old saying goes, you may not know when the door opens but you'll be ready to move through it when it does. You now, there's an old story that my grandmother used to tell me. You know, she said, "Kip, no time to get ready, you have to stay ready because when you get an opportunity, you can't say, 'hey, wait a minute, I'm not ready just yet.'"

Those who helped form our history seized opportunities because they were prepared and it did not matter if they wore the cloth of their nation as I do. They did something that contributed to the building of our nation.

I think of Charles Drew, the famous doctor/surgeon and what he did even when he could not even take advantage of his own invention, discovery of blood plasma. What an impact he made. He happened to be in a place; he was prepared; granted an opportunity; moved forward.

Charles Drew is in this room, Charles Drew is next door, Charles Drew is in Monrovia. Charles Drew is in America just waiting for the opportunity to cause our society by what he or she does to be better. And that's why this is such a noble endeavor to be on.

There was a young sergeant -- and you won't know her name: Dedraf Blash. Sergeant Blash is a senior noncommissioned officer for the United States Army Africa. She spent three months here in Liberia at Camp Ware working with AFL medical soldiers. And this is what she said, and I quote her words here: "There's nothing more special than to have someone say to you, you helped me be a better person. It brings a smile to my face and the words 'mission accomplished' shone in my heart."

Each one of us has the opportunity to have someone say about us, you helped me to be a better person. And that's what we achieve to do and that circumstance knows no race, knows no gender, knows no color, knows no ethnic background.

That is a trait that God has given to every human being and we take time this month, as well as other times of the year, to acknowledge the work that has been done by Americans of African descent that enables all of us to say, you helped me be better. You helped through your actions my country be better. You helped through your actions the world in which we live to be better.

Each of us can have someone say that about us by taking advantage of those opportunities that are there, staying true to our values, not being discouraged as sometimes might be the case and moving forward in productive ways. And by doing so, these opportunities that will invariably come along will be taken advantage of and we have the hope, the dream, the desire that the world in which we will live tomorrow will be better than the world today.

And I think that's what humanity is destined to leave to its successors, doing what we do that indeed has the potential to leave a better world. There are a handful of senior flag officers in our Department of Defense who are of minority descent. African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans but that's not such an important thing.

What's important is that those who continue to move forward, you don't have to be a general or an admiral or a colonel or a sergeant major to make a difference. It's what each of us as an individual, wherever we are, in whatever role can do the very thing that those who you look out on the display boards have done, making a difference on behalf of their nation and doing it in a way such that all of its peoples are better off.

So we celebrate this month the fact that there have been men and women who have done just that and because of their achievements, their service, their commitment, their dedication, their professionalism, in whatever field of endeavor, the United States is better off, the world is better off and through the actions that are being done here in Liberia by young men and women and some not-so-young men and women, the same conditions that will hold true.

So I -- thanks for the opportunity to be here and to reflect a bit on what this time means to me. I celebrate African American history -- that song that Lionel Richie sang, all night long. (Laughter.) All year long I celebrate. I'm proud of who I am. I'm proud of the fact that what I do makes a difference for everyone because of hopefully a concern that I've been able to demonstrate for my fellow human beings.

And the fact that I live in a nation based on a lot of toil, sacrifice to include folks giving their life that I've had this opportunity to be where I am. I do not take that for granted. I do not take that for granted. I'm proud to serve, proud to be here and I wish you the same successes as you take advantage and pave the way for those who will come behind you by your service and your sacrifice as can be done by each of us regardless of background, regardless of race and regardless of gender.

Celebrate the diversity that we are as a people. Honor that. Take advantage of that. Respect that. And in so doing, humankind is better off. God bless you. I'll stop. You probably have some questions. I appreciate the opportunity to be here and keep on keeping on. It will make a difference. Thanks very much. (Applause.) They don't have any questions.

STAFF: Questions -- if you could please stand up, identify yourself and speak out loud so that we can all hear the question?

Q: Thank you, General Williams. First of all, I would like to welcome you to Liberia. General Ward --

GEN. WARD: That's okay, buddy. I know who you're talking to. (Laughter.)

Q: I would like to welcome you to Liberia. I am -- (inaudible) -- from the University of Liberia. I want to ask this question. The issue of race in Africa Command, AFRICOM, as you are aware is also in Liberia and we -- do you feel like really we have some thinking on our mind whether the AFRICOM was a strategy to recruit black into the United State military.

GEN. WARD: No. (Laughter.)

Q: Thank you. (Laughter.)

GEN. WARD: You're welcome.

Q: Thank you, General Ward. I'm --

GEN. WARD: And I say that quickly but absolutely not, not a strategy to recruit anyone. It was designed to cause the work that we do to be better focused and better suited to what it is we do as we work with our partners because of the attention we pay, listening to you, doing things that make sense from your point of view, not dictating, not directing and doing it in a cohesive way with our country team, with our ambassador who is here.

But as we move forward together, our actions have a better chance of leading to a more stable society, not that we lead it but we provide the support to it as may be requested and determined. Not to recruit.

Q: Thank you, General, once again. Again, I'm Youssef (ph) -- (inaudible) -- representing the youth from the -- (inaudible). I must confess you are a good orator.

GEN. WARD: Why do you have to confess? (Laughter.) Thank you.

Q: And I also want to -- (inaudible) -- at least shine a little light, I would appreciate it if you would turn a little light on the Africa Command which is -- (inaudible). When I was stating my question is have to do with a little research I did on the African American contributions to the U.S. Army or military.

And I came across a story of one corporal, Freddie Stowers. Now, this story went on to say that Corporal Stowers and his men, I think from the 157th Infantry Regiment during World War I, they fought gallantly in the war effort and he was -- unfortunately, he lost his life in that process. And he was honored but it took 73 years before he was recognized after two congressional debates and an order under President Bush.

So my question here has to do, I'm a bit confused, is the issue of segregation in the U.S. Army totally out of the question?

Has it been really erased out of the U.S. military because with that kind of story, you see how someone took their life, as you said, of General Benjamin Davis, what he said. But I'm confused. I thought I was -- I thought in my mind Freddie Stowers was one of those with that conception that you fight no matter what it is for his state and his government. Thank you.

GEN. WARD: Thank you for your research. Thank you for your interest in understanding what this really means. I think I am on pretty firm footing when I say segregation does not exist today in the United States Army. That does not mean that there aren't attitudes that people might have about others that may not be totally fair or appropriate.

But as an institution, segregation does not exist and when those who now serve in our military serve with dignity, serve with respect, know their jobs and do them well and present no other rationale for someone to deny them, opportunities are there. I said is it prefect, the answer is no. Nothing's perfect. But from the standpoint of the policies, the regulations, the directives, orders and actions, individuals in the United States military have opportunities that are beyond that exist in most places.

In fact, there are many who will say that in the case of the United States of America it has been its military that has led the way in many respects for the advancement of all of its people. So is it perfect? No, but is it something to be proud of? Yes. Am I proud to be a member of the United States military?

You bet I am and if I thought that it hadn't given me a fair chance, I probably wouldn't be here nor would I encourage others to take advantage of it because what it teaches, even those -- I'm almost wearing this uniform for 40 years. I'm an old man. I'm still pretty fit. (Laughter.)

But even if you don't do it for as long as I've done it, what the military teaches you about discipline, respect, accountability, responsibility, integrity are life examples, are life values that can be applied to any profession.

And so, I still recommend it and even if you only stay two years or 20 years or 40 years. But that experience I think causes you to be a better citizen regardless of your profession and what's why what's going on with the Armed Forces of Liberia I think will cause this society to continue to move in a positive way because of what it is, leading it to a better day.

MS. : Could we do two more questions?

GEN. WARD: Yes, ma'am.

MS. : The young man there, yeah?

Q: I'm Mohammad (sp) -- (inaudible) -- and my question is I want to know the aim and objective of AFRICOM on the African continent.

GEN. WARD: Great question. Our purpose is to work in partnership with the nations of Africa, with our other government agencies and partners as we do our best to help support African goals and objectives to have additional capacity to provide for their own security. It is not to come and direct, to occupy a territory. It is not to come and establish bases.

It is to be a force that enables in a positive way the objectives and ideals of nations who decide that providing for our own security, as Nelson Mandela said, an Africa that recognizes that we are responsible for our own safety and security but with the help of our friends.

And what AFRICOM does, as is done, I might offer to you, all over the world where the United States of America is asked to be a supporting effort in helping to increase the capacity, doing those things that do just that. We don't go where we're not invited and we don't do what we're not asked to do. That has been what I've said for the past three years and what we've found over the continent that has been how we conduct ourselves.

And so I think what AFRICOM does is what we are asked to do as we work in support of the people of countries and the region as they strive and desire to build a more stable environment through a more professional military, militaries that act on behalf of their people as protectors of their people and not oppressors, as they increase their capacity to provide for their own security. That's what the command does; nothing more and nothing more projected either. Thank you.

MS. : Okay, over there?

Q: Thank you very much. My name is -- (inaudible). General Ward, thank you for the opportunity and I want to commend you for the explanation. I listened keenly on the historical references that you told us to find a way for our own country. Looking at the main contributions that African Americans have made over the years and reflect them too our own setting on some Africans who are interested in becoming a member of the U.S. Army. What are the plans? (Laughter.)

GEN. WARD: What are the places?

MR. : Plans.

GEN. WARD: Plans for?

AMB. THOMAS-GREENFIELD: For Africans who wish to become a member of the U.S. Army.

Q: Plans to be a member.

GEN. WARD: Oh -- (chuckles). Well, I honestly don't -- I don't have any plans. I think, you know, becoming a member of the American armed forces is a function of, you know, our statutes, some recruiting requirements. I don't do that personally so I would be on shaky ground if I were to say to you what it is to do and what the plans are. I know there are avenues.

There are routes and there are those who could be certainly providing -- we could provide you with information about that as opposed to me trying to kind of wing it and guess it. I would probably not say that. I know that there are opportunities. There are routes.

There are avenues that can be taken and I'm sure through the embassy here there will be ways to get additional information about that. Probably someone said they were on the Internet, the Internet has most of that stuff as well, you now. So it's there. Also there's Armed Forces of Liberia that is moving in a direction that's positive. (Applause.)

MS. : Oh my gosh, okay, yeah, the lady, yeah.

MS. : That's the last one.

Q: My name is -- (inaudible) -- from the AME University. General Ward, I want to commend you for --

GEN. WARD: From what university?

Q: African Methodist Episcopal University.

GEN. WARD: AME University, African Methodist Episcopal University, great. My grandfather is an AME minister. But that's just another little point there. Yes, ma'am.

Q: Oh okay. What I want to know is AFRICOM a project? If so, what's its timeline because I heard you say that you have an objective and your objective is to help structure the security sector of nations in Africa. So I want to know whether AFRICOM is a project, that is, if you have a timeline.

GEN. WARD: Great question. AFRICOM is not a project. AFRICOM is a geographic command. Before AFRICOM, there were five. These five geographic commands had activities that they conducted around the world where United States foreign policy said, we will do military-to-military engagement, military supported activities with these countries based on our foreign policy objectives.

There were five of those geographic commands, one for Europe, one for South America, one for Asia and the Pacific, one for South America and one for the central Mideast region. U.S. European Command, U.S. Central Command, U.S. Pacific Command, U.S. Southern Command and U.S. -- and one other command.

There were five of them. Africa was divided through the three of them. There were three of those commands that did work on the continent of Africa -- U.S. European Command, U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Central Command. The work was not coordinated.

Our African partners in the African Union, the regional economic communities, they didn't know who to deal with on any given day. Well, maybe one day it's European Command. Maybe the next day it's Pacific Command. Maybe the next day it's Central Command. What Africa Command did was nothing more than a reorganization of the U.S. Department of Defense and created a command structure which is nothing more than a staff.

We say command and you envision, you know, formations of soldiers and sailors and airmen. It's a staff headquarters. And as opposed to having Africa having to deal with three separate ones of those, a staff headquarters and command that was dedicated and focused on Africa like every other part of the world was; Southern Command for South America, Pacific Command for Asia, European command for Europe.

So now, there's one additional one, a sixth geographic command because we have recognized Africa as we have recognized other parts of the world. It's not a project. It's a part of our structure as we conduct our military-to-military relations, all as a function of our foreign policy objectives that we pursue globally.

And in our case, we do what we do by working with our partners and friends, i.e., as I mentioned to the gentleman with the previous question, in ways that help with the support that we are asked to provide as nations seek to increase their capacity to provide for their own security, to work in a more cooperative way regionally, conducting peacekeeping missions here on the continent but also around the world where those additional capacities and training and equipment are asked for and where we can provide that and have the resources to do so, we will do it. It might go away at some point in time, maybe so.

But it's not a project that only has some specific purpose. It is a part of our overall design for the Department of Defense. It was nothing more than a restructuring. You know, you reorganize to accommodate the current environment. That's all it was and that's what it remains. Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)