VICENZA, Italy - Army officers laying the groundwork for future missions in Africa met with Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Theresa Whelan during her Jan. 30 visit to the headquarters of U.S. Army Africa.

Whelan addressed the group during a day-long planning seminar held at the Caserma Ederle's Arena entertainment center. The Army officers and civilians are preparing for an upcoming U.S. Africa Command Theater Security Cooperation Working Group, set to take place in Germany in February.

"It's a pleasure to be here and see all of you looking at Africa in ways that that we haven't in the past," Whelan said.

As part of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Whelan is responsible for U.S. defense policy for all of Sub-Saharan Africa. A career civil servant, she is an expert in African issues, having served much of her career focused on African affairs.

The Army has the ability to not only train with African militaries, but also to offer guidance on how to care for their forces, Whelan said.

"The effectiveness of their militaries is based on how well they manage them," she said.

In October, U.S. Africa Command became operational. In December, the U.S. Army's Southern European Task Force began its transformation to become the Army component to U.S. Africa Command.

"I'm really happy that we've made this shift," Whelan said. "I think it will make a difference on the continent in the future."

The officers and civilians attending the seminar represent organizations from around the world, including the Headquarters, Department of the Army, U.S. Army Europe, U.S. Army Central, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Security Assistance Training Management Organization, U.S. Army Security Assistance Command, Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Army Reserves.

Maj. Gen. William B. Garrett III, commander of U.S. Army Africa, told the group that U.S. Army Africa must bring to bear the expertise from throughout the Army - relying on resources from the active component, the National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserves to complete its mission. The command will focus efforts on niche talents of U.S. Army officers and non-commissioned officers to deploy in small teams to Africa to build partnerships and share expertise in a variety of military fields, he said.

Education is one of that best ways to create positive changes in any organization, Garrett said. Growing self-reliance among African militaries to become regional contributors to peace and increasing interoperability with U.S. and other international forces are among the tasks Army officers must plan for.

"Those are goals for us to head toward," Garrett said. "Getting relationships established now will pay huge dividends in the future."