STUTTGART, Germany, Mar 9, 2011 -- Gen. Carter F. Ham assumed command of U.S. Africa Command from Gen. William E. Ward during a change-of-command ceremony, March 9, 2011, at the Stadthalle in Sindelfingen, Germany, on the outskirts of Stuttgart.

Ham is the second commander of U.S. Africa Command, which was established in October 2007. In October 2008 AFRICOM became the U.S. military's sixth and newest unified combatant command, coordinating U.S. military relations with more than 50 nations in Africa.

"Those of us who are privileged to serve today often say that we have the great honor in walking in the footsteps of giants. Today, as Christi and I follow Kip and Joyce Ward, that phrase has never been more meaningful to me than that," Ham said.

"I know we'll face many challenges, some of those we can see very clearly today, while others will emerge in unexpected ways and in unexpected places. I remain wholly confident that the Africa Command team will meet each and every one of those challenges with agility, imaginative thought, and unselfish dedication. My fundamental belief is that we can and will accomplish more when we work together with our African partners," he added.

Ham brings diverse experience to the command from his former positions, including serving as the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conducting peacekeeping operations in Macedonia, and commanding troops in northern Iraq. In his most recent position, he served as the commanding general of U.S. Army Europe, headquartered in Heidelberg, Germany.

The change-of-command ceremony was attended by approximately 700 people, including staff members and dignitaries from the United States, Germany, and other European nations. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James E. Cartwright both provided opening remarks.

"When we first announced the creation of AFRICOM, with its regional focus and institutional inclusion of [the Department of] State and USAID personnel, there was to put it mildly, a certain amount of skepticism," Gates said.

"Some feared the command represented the first steps to a major U.S. military presence in Africa. Others that it would lead to an unacceptable militarization of U.S. foreign and development policy. But, as I said then, and still believe, when crime, terrorism, natural disasters, economic turmoil, ethnic fissures, and disease can be just as destabilizing as traditional military threats, we need to fuse old understandings of security with new concepts of how security, stability, and development go hand in hand," Gates continued. "From the moment he took command, Kip Ward demonstrated the worth of this concept by keeping his eye on the mission, promoting African security by building the capacity of partner nations and organizations."

Cartwright talked about how Ward and his wife Joyce always recognized people as the priority -- both in Africa and at the command.

"Africa -- it's a vast continent with tremendous natural resources, but its treasure is its people. And that is something that General Ward has brought to this command since its stand-up in October of 2007. This continent has over 50 countries, over a billion people. But its people are where he focused this command, and where this command has led from the front."

In his last address as U.S. AFRICOM commander, Ward thanked the many people who supported and contributed to the creation of the command, giving special mention to those who were there from the beginning in the command's early establishment phases.

"The story of U.S. Africa Command's establishment is filled with unsung heroes who dedicated themselves to an idea -- that in recognition of Africa's strategic importance to the United States, the Department of Defense needed a new construct that better aligned the Department's programs and activities to meet our African partners' needs. It fell upon these unsung heroes to turn that idea into a reality, through good solid hard staff work," Ward said.

Ward also emphasized that U.S. military engagement and relationship-building have shown significant results through people-to-people contacts.

AFRICOM has undertaken "a series of military engagements where Soldier by Soldier, sailor by sailor, airman by airman, Marine Corpsman by Marine Corpsman, Coast Guardsman by Coast Guardman, we make a difference," Ward said. "And not because we teach someone how to shoot straight or how to drop a bomb accurately or how to drive a ship in the right direction, but because by partnering with our friends and teammates, they see the best of America -- an American service man or woman. They get to know us, and they say 'Hmm, that is okay.' And there is no greater evidence of that today than what is going on in the northern tier of this continent," he added, referring to recent popular upheavals in several North African nations.

"Where we have had those sustained relationships, we see the military behaving in a way that contributes to the stability of a society," Ward said. "And where that has not been the case [of sustained U.S. partnership], militaries are contributing to that additional instability. If you say it's not important for us to be engaged in a sustained way over time, look around. Your Africa Command is dedicated to that."

Ward was deputy of U.S. European Command in August 2006 when EUCOM was notified to begin planning for the possible creation of a new command for Africa. In late September 2007, Ward was confirmed as the first commander of U.S. AFRICOM.

He led the command in its conception, planning, and operations, from October 1, 2007 until March 9, 2011. During this time he traveled to more than 40 African countries and met with those nations' senior leaders and military officers. His extensive travel included meeting with a wide number of officials to explain U.S. Africa Command following widespread concern and skepticism when the command's creation was made public in 2007.

During a conference in Stuttgart in October 2010, Ambassador John K. Shinkaiye, chief of staff of the African Union Commission, stated that Ward has "made the establishment of Africa Command acceptable to Africa," adding that Ward's "own personal qualities contributed to the turn-around, and we thank him for this immense contribution to helping tackle Africa's many serious security problems."

During the change of command ceremony, Gates quoted Ward in noting that "African leaders are no longer asking, 'Why is AFRICOM there'' but 'What can AFRICOM do to help''"

Gates during the ceremony presented Ward with a Defense Distinguished Service Award for his leadership and accomplishments as U.S. AFRICOM commander.

"General Ward's outstanding leadership, foresighted planning, and trademark leadership brought a unique team together from scratch. The hugely successful standup of U.S. Africa Command was a direct result of his thorough collaboration, vision, and attention to detail," the award read.

Ward's wife, Joyce, an active volunteer in the Department of Defense and the local Stuttgart community, also received a Distinguished Public Service award. Joyce Ward championed quality-of-life initiatives for military servicemembers and their families to include an annual forum called the U.S. Africa Command Families on the African Continent that gave command staff and U.S. military family members living in Africa a venue to express quality-of-life challenges and provide them with updates on the command's activities. She also frequently traveled to Africa with General Ward in support of a variety of humanitarian efforts.

"Over a span of four years, Mrs. Ward visited 26 African states, donating countless supplies and books to orphanages and health care facilities," the award stated. "Her exceptional commitment and service to her country, coupled with her personal concern for others, have contributed immensely to the positive perceptions of U.S. Africa Command."

U.S. Africa Command, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, focuses on synchronizing hundreds of activities inherited from three regional commands that previously coordinated U.S. military relations in Africa. The command's mission statement reads: "U.S. AFRICOM, in concert with other U.S. government agencies and international partners, conducts sustained security engagement through military-to-military programs, military-sponsored activities, and other military operations as directed to promote a stable and secure African environment in support of U.S. foreign policy."