The United States Africa Command, also known as U.S. AFRICOM, is one of nine Unified Combatant Commands of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). As one of six that are regionally focused, it is devoted solely to Africa. U.S. AFRICOM is responsible to the Secretary of Defense for U.S. military relations with 53 African countries. The command was created by presidential order in 2007 and was officially activated October 1, 2007. It became fully operational October 1, 2008, with General Kip Ward serving as its first commander. General Carter Ham became the second commander of U.S. AFRICOM on March 9, 2011, just in time to address the challenges of relocating headquarter operations from Stuttgart, Germany to the US. Recent speculation, has AFRICOM relocating approximately 1,500 positions to either a) Charleston, SC on or near the Charleston Air Force Base or Naval Station; b) Hampton Roads, VA to replace the Joint Forces Command that has recently been shutdown, and c) Atlanta, GA at either Robbins Air Force Base or Fort MacPherson, which has recently undergone a BRAC action.
At a recent hearing, billed as posture hearing for AFRICOM and U.S. Transportation Command, a number of Defense Department officials expected Libya to be the lawmaker’s prime focus. But relatively few questions focused on military operations, many actually focused on U.S. military involvement in Africa as a whole and TRANSCOM operations. But a good number of comments involved the location of AFRICOM’s headquarters. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has asked AFRICOM Commander Ham to examine the “stationing” of AFRICOM’s headquarters, which is currently located in Stuttgart, Germany.
“He’s essentially asked me to start from a clean sheet of paper,” Ham said during Tuesday afternoon’s HASC hearing.
Prior to AFRICOM’s stand-up in 2007, U.S. Central Command, U.S. European Command and U.S. Pacific Command all oversaw portions of the vast continent. Ham will be examining numerous factors, including security, suitability, quality of life, transportation nodes and accessibility to the Africa when evaluating potential locations.
“That process has begun,” he said. “We will look at first of all to make sure we’ve got the methodology right and then we will look at a wide variety of locations to see which we think would make the most suitable for the command to accomplish its mission.”
That said, numerous members of the House Armed Services Committee feel their communities have what it takes to host the combatant command.
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., was the first to dive deep into the subject, touting Charleston, his birthplace.
“Charleston in the transportation hub for the Unites States Transportation Command, as well as the primary seaport for container traffic between the Unites States and the South Atlantic,” he said. “The Charleston Air Force Base provides all the strategic airlift support for Africa, for our government to include embassy support.”
Wilson also touted the “cultural linkage” he observed during a visit to west African country Liberia.
“The great cultural association of west Africa to Charleston is very clear,” he said. “It’s a shared culture, in fact we have the same accents and I felt right at home when I was visiting with the people in Monrovia.”
Although, he’s not a frequent visitor to Charleston, Ham is a fan of the city. “I’ve only had the opportunity to visit Charleston once, but it was just a few years ago and it was indeed a very enjoyable visit to a great city,” he said.
But Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., would have none of that and touted his home state’s busy commercial cargo operations at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, military aviation facilities, its colleges and the state’s quality of life.
“When I’ve been to South Carolina, Charleston, I’ve enjoyed myself in that area, but I would also point everyone to the fact I live in the Atlanta, Georgia, area, which is the transportation hub of the southeast,” he said.
Enter Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., who represents Georgia’s eighth district, which includes Robbins Air Force Base. It’s also not far from a number of other Air Force and Army bases. “Both the Air Force and the Army are extremely important to us and as you look for additional commands, I think [in] Georgia, you’ll find welcome and open arms there.”
But there were those members representing districts even further west that wanted to tout their home state — or territory in one case.
“I were to tell you about all the advantages of living on a tropical island, it would take all day, so we’ll put it off for another time,” joked Delegate Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam.
Ref: Transcripts from U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs at www.africom.mil