Originally uploaded by US Army Africa
The National Guard and Reserves are making a vital contribution in Africa, the commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) said in Washington, D.C., Oct. 25, 2010.
On any given day, 3,500 U.S. service members serve on the continent, and 90 percent of those are Guard and Reserve members, said AFRICOM commander, Army Gen. William “Kip” Ward.
Ward singled out the almost 20-year-old, 62-nation National Guard State Partnership Program that pairs Guard states with foreign countries.
He challenged Guard and Reserve leaders attending the 2010 Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition to sustain the transformation of the Guard and Reserve accomplished since the Vietnam era and, especially, in the last decade.
“Ladies and gentlemen, that’s what you have to make sure we do not lose,” Ward said.
“In today’s environment, the Army does not do what it does without the full, comprehensive and complete participation of our Guard and Reserve force. Our nation does not do what it does without the full complete, comprehensive integration and use of our Guard and Reserve force. How do we maintain that? How is that enhanced?” he asked.
The work of the Guard and Reserves in Africa, including major exercises and other operations, benefits the United States, helps African nations and enriches the professional and personal lives of the service members involved. Deployments to the continent are predictable, sustainable and promote stability, Ward said.
By land area, Africa could swallow the continental United States three and a half times over; one billion people live in Africa, a number predicted to double in 50 years, Ward said.
Some raw goods, such as the ingredients for parts found in every cell phone in the world, are only available there. The continent’s 53 nations offer growing economic markets, he said.
During his speech, Ward projected a vision that focuses on long-term benefits to the United States: The work AFRICOM does today will make a difference 20 and 50 years on, he said.
“It’s not about whether we will dominate, but will we have access?” Ward said, predicting that U.S. awareness of Africa’s significance will increase, calling it a part of the world where, “we have not paid the type of attention that we ought to.”
In his former role as deputy commander of U.S. European Command and in other capacities, Ward saw the role of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program after the collapse of the former Soviet Union. “I saw it work so well in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain,” he said.
“That model also works in Africa: Sustained security engagement being conducted by young men and women who are combat-tested, proven veterans with energy, enthusiasm, wanting to contribute, making a difference and doing it on a continent where those who are the recipients of that association are thankful for it,” he said.
Singling out work done by the National Guard of California, New York, North Dakota and Vermont in Africa, Ward said that the SPP creates habitual, long-term relationships.
Meanwhile, a 900-strong combat battalion of Kansas Guard based in Djibouti is “working in a brilliant and magnificent way,” Ward said.
The Kansas Citizen-Soldiers, who operate all over the continent, tell Ward they feel appreciated and express their personal satisfaction with a 97 percent re-enlistment rate.
“We appreciate what our National Guard and Reserves do,” Ward said. “What you are doing … is important and it matters.”
National Guard members and Reservists are integrated into AFRICOM’s staff, part of a seamless Total Force, Ward said. “I am proud to serve with them,” he said. “I am proud to be on the team with them.
“Our partners in Africa might not like everything our nation does, but when their soldiers meet our soldiers for training, exercises, military-to-military contacts, regardless of whether they’re Active, Guard or Reserve, they have no idea,” he said. “They just see the best in America, and the role that the National Guard and Reserves play … is absolutely critical.
“They see first and foremost an American that’s helping.”