AFRICOM personnel bid farewell to Ward, welcomes Ham Published March 9, 2011 By Karen Parrish American Forces Press Service SINDELFINGEN, Germany (AFNS) -- Members of the Defense Department's newest combatant command bid farewell to their inaugural commander here March 9. Army Gen. William E. "Kip" Ward passed the reins of U.S. Africa Command to Army Gen. Carter F. Ham after nearly three years at the helm. 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," Secretary 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," Secretary Gates added. The secretary praised General 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," Secretary 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." General Ward put those concepts into action as commander, Secretary Gates said, and General Ham will be an able successor. AFRICOM stood up in October 2007 and assumed operational oversight of U.S. humanitarian assistance and counterterrorism efforts across the African continent, which includes more than 50 nations and more than a billion people. During the ceremony, Secretary Gates presented General 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 General Ward has served with distinction during his long career. "(He) has been a soldier for over 40 years, a statesman, a commander, battle-hardened," General Cartwright said. General Ward and his wife have done "a fantastic job" in AFRICOM, he added. "It has been, and will be, their legacy," the vice chairman said. General Ward spoke before officially handing the command over to General 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." General Ham spoke briefly at the ceremony's conclusion, pledging to continue the command's mission to help find "African solutions to African security challenges." General 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. General 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.