General Ham Discusses First Weeks as AFRICOM Commander at All-Hands Staff Meeting

In his first all-hands meeting with staff March 28, 2011, at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany, General Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command, discussed the command's role in military operations in Libya, outlined his expectations for staff, and touched on upcoming changes resulting from the repeal of the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

Ham assumed command in March 9 and soon thereafter was ordered by President Barack Obama to command of U.S. military operations in Libya in support of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 to enforce an arms embargo, a no-fly zone, and to protect civilians against attacks by Libyan leader Moammar Qadhafi's regime.

Operation Odyssey Dawn

While commending the U.S. AFRICOM staff and its component organizations for their speed, efficiency, and effectiveness of the planning and execution of Operation Odyssey Dawn (the name for U.S. military operations in Libya), Ham emphasized that the command is much more than that.

"We've demonstrated the capability to [lead military operations], but what the command does in other areas is equally if not more important than that capability," Ham said at a gathering of hundreds of U.S. AFRICOM staff members at the Kelley Fitness Center on Kelley Barracks. "And what I've learned in the brief time I've been here is that the command is good enough to do all those things. We can, in fact, lead, coordinate, and execute military operations. Simultaneously, we can lead, plan, and coordinate operations that build partner capacity; that establish relationships; that help our African partners develop in their own capabilities, while advancing United States security interests throughout the continent of Africa."

He also emphasized the importance of working together with interagency partners and other nations, using this operation as a model for how African nations can work together regionally to accomplish missions on short notice.

"As I look at Operation Odyssey Dawn, one of the reasons that [it] was successful was because the military capabilities of so many nations came together very, very quickly," Ham said. "That, I think, from a military standpoint, is what we want to encourage on a regional basis in Africa."

He said, ideally, a regional military approach to security problems in Africa would not necessarily include U.S. military capabilities. Instead, African nations would operate regionally under and African-led regional organization, or under the African Union, United Nations or a similar organization, and be able to provide and coordinate amongst themselves significant military capabilities on short notice.

"While we did in fact lead the operations in Libya, that's not the preferred solution," Ham said. U.S. AFRICOM, he added, should focus on crisis prevention, and only be ordered to undertake military action as a last solution.

Ham concluded his thoughts on Libya by passing on positive comments from President Obama, who said he was proud of the "extraordinary accomplishments" of the command staff.

"There's a lot of friction out there; there's a lot of uncertainty as to how this is going to unfold. The one certainty is that the president of the United States knows, and he told me this, that he knows whatever he asks this command to do, we will do," Ham said.

"I could hear in his voice that he is very sincere when he talks about that," added Ham. "He talks about the precision, the skill, the imagination and agility of the American serviceman. That's you. That's us. That's what we've been able to accomplish collectively."

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Ham, who was appointed in 2010 to lead a Pentagon study on the effects of revoking the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, talked to staff about changes they would see as a result of the president's repeal of the law in December 2010.

According to Ham, staff will see very little fundamental changes. The main points of the repeal are the U.S. military can no longer separate or deny service entry to someone because of their sexual preference. However, he added that sexuality remains a private and personal matter. The law's repeal, Ham said, means treating people with dignity and respect. "But don't we do that already?" Ham asked.

One of Ham's discoveries from the survey was that, "overwhelmingly, people in uniform and their families are far more concerned about accomplishing the mission than they are about someone's personal and private matters, and I think that's kind of what guides us as we go through this process."

Military members can expect to complete an instructional module in one of three broad categories which is being implemented across the services to explain how the changes will affect them. The first category is geared to those who are most likely to need to deal with the complicated intricacies of the repeal, such as chaplains, lawyers, and recruiters; the second area of training is focused more for enlisted leaders and officers who would need to be able to explain the new policy to subordinates; and the third provides general training and information for all service members.

Ham's Pledge to the Staff

Ham encouraged staff members to give all they do their best effort, to work as a team rather than individuals, and, most importantly, to find a balance between self, work, and family.

"What I would pledge to you is that I'll do my best each and every day to uphold the trust and confidence that's been placed in me by allowing me this honor to serve as your commander. My expectation is that you do exactly the same," Ham said.

"I am truly humbled to have been afforded this opportunity to serve alongside you," he said. "But at the same time, I'm really excited about the opportunities that are ahead for us. I think this is a great time for Africa Command and for all the people that are here."

[Source: By Danielle Skinner, U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs, Stutgart, Deu, 30Mar11]

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