A U.S. Army Africa officer is underway with the USS Nashville as part of a training, goodwill and outreach mission to five West African nations.

In late-January, Capt. Alberto Ceffalo, a North Carolina National Guard officer attached to U.S. Army Africa, met the Nashville in Rota, Spain. Its first stop - Dakar, Senegal.

"As the U.S. Army Africa representative, my job is to open doors for the Army in Western Africa," Ceffalo said. "As a liaison officer for the command, I hope to build relationships with African partners for future cooperation."

The ship's float to West Africa is part of the U.S. Navy's Africa Partnership Station, an ongoing international effort to merge maritime training with African ties. In December 2008, the Army's Southern European Task Force began transforming into the Army component to U.S. Africa Command. Partnering with African militaries is a key task for the command.

In the coming weeks, the Nashville will visit Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon. On board, Ceffalo works with liaison Naval officers from each of those countries. At each port, he plans to use his rapport with African officers to meet their colleagues on land.

"This is a unique and wonderful opportunity," Ceffalo said. "It is a great chance to work with African militaries, see how they operate and to get to know a little bit about their personal and professional lives."

In U.S., Ceffalo serves with the 130th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, National Guard unit in Charlotte, NC. Mobilized for active duty in 2006, Ceffalo was previously a health club manager. For the past two years he was assigned to the warrior training program at Fort Bragg.

On short notice, Ceffalo left his home in Waxhaw, NC, for Vicenza, Italy - headquarters of U.S. Army Africa. There he met with Maj. Gen. William B. Garrett III, and other senior U.S. Army Africa leadership before heading to Spain to meet the Nashville.

Based in Norfolk, Va., the Nashville is an Austin-class, amphibious transport dock - a 570-foot vessel with a crew of more than 400. It's the final mission for the Nashville, which is set to be decommissioned later this year.

Sailing to missions is something new for the Army officer. To pass the time, Ceffalo has access to shipboard recreation, to include a gym and movies. At each port, tours to local attractions are offered, he said.

"Life on a ship is definitely an eye-opener. You must learn to have patience," Ceffalo said. "In the Army, if you need to deploy anywhere, usually you would arrive at your destination within hours - on a ship, it's days."