Ward in Comoros: 'What you say matters to us'
During his travels to African nations, General William E. Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command, delivers an unwavering message: The command is listening to and learning from its African partners on security issues and will help where possible. Ward brought that message in person January 21, 2009, to the island-nation of Comoros off the southeastern coast of Africa during the nation's first official visit of a top U.S. military commander. "Our command is dedicated to doing its best 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to help the nations of Africa address their security concerns," he explained to about 40 Comoran journalists, students, and teachers gathered for a press conference. "What you say matters to us," he said. Ward and U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Eric Stromayer met with Vice President Idi Nadhoim, Minister of Defense Mohamed Dossar, and Defense Forces Chief of Staff Salimou Mohamed Amiri to fully understand the security challenges facing this country. The previous day, Ward met with the president of Madagascar and top government ministers to discuss ways to boost its homeland security. (see related story http://www.africom.mil/getArticle.asp?art=2487&lang=0) U.S. Africa Command, from its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, works to assist militaries of African nations to increase their security capacity. Prior to the creation of U.S.AFRICOM, U.S. military relations with Comoros and Madagascar were coordinated by U.S. Pacific Command, headquartered in Hawaii. "Africa Command works through U.S. embassies to provide military-to-military assistance to African countries when appropriate and requested," said Jerry Lanier, Ward's foreign policy advisor. "We only go where we are invited and where our presence and what we do reinforces U.S. foreign policy," he said. Lanier attended the meetings with Ward and said they helped to provide general insight into each country's priorities and desires. "What's important is that now the dialogue has been established," Lanier said. "When a request for military assistance comes to us from the ambassador, we will already have a good amount of clarity of what it is they are looking for." According to Ward, the Comoran government asked for assistance with maritime safety and security. In response to this request, the United States will provide Comoros with a patrol boat later this year. The boat will be funded by the Foreign Military Financing program, which provides grants and loans to help countries buy U.S.-produced defense equipment. Additionally, Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, the U.S.AFRICOM subordinate command in Djibouti with direct oversight of U.S. military assistance programs in Comoros and other nations in the east Africa region, has sent training teams to conduct basic maritime security training. The U.S. Navy is also working with Comoros to eventually install an Automatic Information System, which identifies and tracks vessels in a country's territorial waters to improve maritime domain awareness. However, the most visible impact of U.S. military assistance to Comoros comes from a dozen U.S. Navy Mobile Construction Battalion "Seabees." Seabee teams have deployed in the region since 2007 to construct a six-room school building, which is scheduled to be completed in July 2009. Comoros, comprised of three islands that together are approximately the size of the U.S. state of Delaware, is among the world's poorest and least-developed nations. Among its leaders' top priorities is improving education. This school, on the island of Grande Comore, is the third such project the U.S. military has built there since 2007. "You're basically improving something for somebody who doesn't have anything," said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Beardsley, the project's leading petty officer. "You get a good night's sleep. You get to make some family's life a little bit better; their kids are getting a chance to learn." Built entirely of cinder block and hand-mixed concrete, the school will accommodate about 250 students attending the U.S. equivalent of high school and junior college. Ward toured the site, presented his commander's coin to the Seabees, and listened as they explained how they were building the school. "You're here to help in an area that makes the greatest difference for the children," Ward told the Seabees. "I'm proud of the work that you're doing away from home. This resonates louder and longer than anything that we can do. Well done."