Vince Crawley's Africa Blog

Africa and the U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on March 5, 2014

NOTE: By my count, Africa or African is mentioned 21 times in the newly released Quadrennial Defense Review, including two mentions of the African Union and one mention, in a photo caption, of the Central African Republic.

The text below highlights sections of the QDR that mention U.S. defense policy toward Africa. In most contexts throughout the 88-page document, Africa is mentioned alongside the Middle East as a region of instability. This is intended as a quick summary, not a comprehensive analysis. Other aspects of the Quadrennial Defense Review may also impact U.S. defense strategy in Africa. The full document, 3.5 Megabytes in PDF format, is available at the following link:

A bit of background: The QDR was released March 4, 2014, in connection with the administration’s annual defense budget proposal to Congress. The QDR is a strategic review originally intended to provide a rationale for the size and configuration of U.S. armed forces. The review takes place every four years and first began with the Bottom Up Review under the late Defense Secretary Les Aspin in 1993 to develop a strategic framework for shaping the
U.S. military in a post-Cold War environment. Successive administrations have conducted a review at the beginning of each four-year presidential term.

Quadrennial Defense Review 2014

 “… The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) seeks to adapt, reshape, and rebalance our military to prepare for the strategic challenges and opportunities we face in the years ahead. … ”

 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel introduction memo.

Pages v, vi (3rd and 4th pages of the Executive Summary):

Building on the Defense Strategic Guidance

The United States exercises global leadership in support of our interests: U.S. security and that of our allies and partners; a strong economy in an open economic system; respect for universal values; and an international order that promotes peace, security, and opportunity through cooperation. Protecting and advancing these interests, consistent with the National Security

Strategy, the 2014 QDR embodies the 21st century defense priorities outlined in the 2012

Defense Strategic Guidance. These priorities include rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region to preserve peace and stability in the region; maintaining a strong commitment to security and stability in Europe and the Middle East; sustaining a global approach to countering violent extremists and terrorist threats, with an emphasis on the Middle East and Africa; continuing to protect and prioritize key investments in technology while our forces overall grow smaller and leaner; and invigorating efforts to build innovative partnerships and strengthen key alliances and partnerships. The 2014 QDR builds on these priorities and incorporates them into a broader strategic framework. The Department’s defense strategy emphasizes three pillars:

  • Protect the homeland, to deter and defeat attacks on the United States and to support civil authorities in mitigating the effects of potential attacks and natural disasters.
  • Build security globally, in order to preserve regional stability, deter adversaries, support allies and partners, and cooperate with others to address common security challenges.
  • Project power and win decisively, to defeat aggression, disrupt and destroy terrorist networks, and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

These pillars are mutually reinforcing and interdependent, and all of the military Services play important roles in each. Our nuclear deterrent is the ultimate protection against a nuclear attack on the United States, and through extended deterrence, it also serves to reassure our distant allies of their security against regional aggression. It also supports our ability to project power by communicating to potential nuclear-armed adversaries that they cannot escalate their way out of failed conventional aggression. Building security globally not only assures allies and partners and builds their capacity but also helps protect the homeland by deterring conflict and increasing stability in regions like the Middle East and North Africa. Our ability to project forces to combat terrorism in places as far away as Yemen, Afghanistan, and Mali – and to build capacity to help partners counter terrorism and counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) – reduces the likelihood that these threats could find their way to U.S. shores.

Page xiii

… In the near term, U.S. forces will remain actively engaged in building partnerships and enhancing stability in key regions, but our engagement will be even more tailored and selective. We will continue to sustain a heightened alert posture in regions like the Middle East and North Africa. (more…)


Africa Center Visits Gettysburg

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on November 10, 2013

I put together this video following our visit to the Gettysburg National Battlefield Memorial on Oct. 31, 2013.

The Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) invited 60 next-generation leaders from 40 nations in Africa for a visit to Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, October 31, 2013. While sharing the history of America’s own bloody and prolonged civil war, the visit also allowed discussion of strategic leadership as well as post-conflict reconciliation. In the video, the Africa Center’s Prof. Thomas Dempsey explains why the 150-year-old battle and its aftermath are relevant to African leaders today. The event was part of the Africa Center’s three-week Next Generation of Security Sector Leaders program.

Our writer Paul Nantulya also interviewed several to participants to put together an interesting story, ‘The Making of a Nation’ – African Security Sector Leaders Visit Gettysburg

Remembering the 1995-’96 Govt Shutdown in Bosnia

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on October 15, 2013

The last government shutdown, in December 1995 and January 1996, I was a Stars and Stripes reporter in Bosnia, so the political turmoil was just a distant murmur as I drove up from our rented apartment/office in Tuzla every day to see if U.S. troops had yet succeeded in crossing to my side of the Sava River at Zupanje-Orasje amid horrendous floods followed by an intense freeze. For individuals, crossing the river could be accomplished by hopping aboard a local ferry. But 1st Armored Division, deploying down from Germany to enforce the newly signed Dayton Peace Accords, required the assembly of a remarkable 2,000-foot floating pontoon bridge able to carry across Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. The original highway bridge had been destroyed during the 1992-’95 Bosnian war that claimed more than 100,000 lives.

 A few scout vehicles crossed by raft in the days after Christmas. The Army engineers connected the bridge the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, and 1st Armored Division started crossing. A day before, a military police Humvee on reconnaissance ran over a landmine near the bridge site, and Spec. Martin Begosh lost part of his foot. So we weren’t paying a lot of attention to the government shutdown, though I remember seeing a lot of Newt Gingrich and President Clinton on the CNN satellite channel late at night after we’d finished filing our stories.

Democracy Can Be a Bit Embarrassing; My Outreach Trip to Liberia Cut Short by U.S. Govt Shutdown

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on October 11, 2013

By Vince Crawley

We are now 10 days into a shutdown of the U.S. government that has affected a great number of Americans, from those trying to visit national parks and monuments to those unable to apply for new retirement or disability benefits to stricken families of military personnel killed in Afghanistan unable to receive timely death benefits. But Americans aren’t the only ones impacted – the shutdown has deeply affected U.S. relations overseas and diplomatic initiatives large and small.

The road between Monrovia and Roberts International Airport - It's currently the rainy season

The road between Monrovia and Roberts International Airport – It’s currently the rainy season

On the larger side, President Obama had to skip the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit this week in Bali. On the smaller side, last week I was leading a modest three-day Africa Center outreach visit to Liberia that had to be canceled as soon as we arrived.

The several Liberian colleagues we briefly met with were very understanding of our government turmoil and extremely appreciative that we had attempted the program, even if it was thwarted. To some extent, it’s a telling example of democracy at both its best and worst… there was no autocratic leader to wave a hand and tell us to continue our mission because abandoning it in mid-course would be foolish or embarrassing. Instead, we were left to explain to our would-be hosts that, because democracy means there sometimes is vehement disagreement, we were being recalled home and would try to reschedule as soon as current events would allow. Just a couple mornings ago I was listening to a radio talk show, and conservative columnist George Will spoke of the U.S. government shutdown as “bruising, untidy, and utterly democratic.” The United States, he explained, has precisely the kind of government envisioned by founding father James Madison. It was Madison who lobbied hard and successfully for the “power of the purse” – government finances – to reside in the Congress to ensure a separation and balance of powers, making it especially difficult by design to get laws passes, ensuring compromise as the president struggles with the Congress for money to fund government programs, resulting in neither being able to assume totalitarian powers.

Still, it was humbling to find myself on the receiving end of this Madisonian dysfunction. We’d been planning the visit for more than half a year. As part of our ongoing outreach programs at ACSS (Africa Center for Strategic Studies), we visit one- to two-dozen African countries a year with a three- or four-person team. We meet with U.S. Embassy officials and with alumni of past ACSS programs, many of whom are current or future leaders within their governments or civil society. Our outreach visits then culminate with a daylong symposium, conducted in partnership with the Embassy and local alumni community, and focusing on wide-ranging candid discussions of security topics of importance to both the host nation and the United States. This directly supports U.S. policy for Africa, which can best be summed up as enabling African security organizations to be as self-sufficient as possible while operating under civilian control and adhering to international principles. For Liberia, we were planning a daylong symposium on Security Sector Reform, to include discussions on sharing best practices from across West Africa, as well as a session on collaboration between national police and the military in border security. Interestingly, border policing has been a major part in the long history of U.S.-Liberia relations; it was in 1912 – 101 years ago – that the United States sent a contingent of five African American U.S. soldiers to Liberia to help reorganize the Liberian Frontier Force, which had the mission of border patrols in an era when the small nation founded by African Americans was surrounded by colonial powers. More recently, after the 2003 conclusion of Liberia’s devastating civil war, the United States played a major role in helping to build a new Armed Forces of Liberia, which numbers 2,000 troops and continues to be mentored by a small number of visiting U.S. soldiers.

Main street in downtown Monrovia

Main street in downtown Monrovia

We’d also scheduled a separate half-day workshop on the strategic role of the media in security sector reform. This would have invited journalists and military officials to sit together and better understand each other’s roles in defending a society, as well as the importance of the military understanding the professional ethnics of journalists and vice versa. The contracted adjunct faculty for the program is a former Liberian journalist now working in the United States. This is to be a pilot program for a module that we hope to work into our programs across Africa. In our travels we often encounter mutual mistrust and misunderstanding between the military, the national police, and journalists, and there aren’t a lot of programs that bring these groups together in a collaborative fashion.

As I said, the program was planned for close to a year and also would involve the launch of an Africa Center Community Chapter in Monrovia, the 33rd such professional organization in Africa.

We departed from Washington, D.C., the afternoon of Monday, Sept. 30. There was obviously a lot of swirling talk of a potential U.S. government shutdown. Our tickets were already purchased using fiscal 2013 funds, and it seemed like our travel schedule would allow two full days of congressional negotiation before our program was actually in jeopardy. Besides, a last minute cancellation would have been difficult to explain if, as many of us expected, our lawmakers achieved a midnight deal that would keep the government of the United States of America functioning.

Didn’t happen. We arrived in Monrovia at sunset the next day, Oct. 1, and learned not only was the government shut down, but there were no genuine quid-pro-quo negotiations taking place to restore it. The home office in D.C., all of whom were being furloughed except for two military officers and our sole enlisted member, left instructions to postpone the Liberia program and return home in an orderly manner to begin our furloughs. It’s not necessarily easy to immediately depart Monrovia, so we rebooked our tickets for a departure the next evening on a direct Delta Airlines flight to New York, a 13-hour trip with a two-hour layover in Accra, Ghana. We found ourselves back in D.C. by lunchtime Thursday, when we signed out on furlough.

During our 22-hour stopover I saw just enough of Monrovia and the people who live there that I’m eager to return and try again. Hopefully, the government will have a funded budget soon enough that we’ll be able to reschedule, and our fascinating, embarrassing Madisonian experiment will draw to a close.

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Africa Center Supports Sierra Leone Pre-Election Symposium; Africa-wide Voting Issues Discussed

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on July 13, 2012


Article and photos by Vince Crawley, Africa Center for Strategic Studies

SierraLeoneSymposiumFREETOWN, Sierra Leone – The Sierra Leone Chapter of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) hosted a daylong symposium in June 2012 aimed at advancing cross-government dialogue and cooperation for historic elections scheduled to take place in November.

Participants said many of the issues discussed are relevant to elections across Africa. The upcoming election in Sierra Leone is important enough that Africa Center chapter leaders were featured on nationwide radio and television and were invited to meet with President Ernest Bai Koroma, who said the ACSS chapter symposium was timely because the upcoming elections understandably represent the main focus of the nation’s security for the immediate future. In addition, Koroma emphasized that Sierra Leone cannot achieve security in isolation but also must be concerned with the stability and security of neighbors and regional partners.

“In many countries across Africa, the right to vote and to be elected is now widely accepted as a fundamental human and constitutional right,” said retired Ambassador Joe C. Blell, president of the Sierra Leone Chapter. “State authorities therefore have the responsibility to set the conditions for credible election processes,” Blell said in opening remarks at the June 11 symposium, which was titled “State of Preparedness with the Security Sector: Working Towards Free, Fair, and Credible Elections.”

The symposium included three Africa Center academic and outreach staff members from the United States and brought together approximately 50 representatives from across Sierra Leone’s government and civil society. They discussed the role the West African nation’s security sector will play in support of presidential parliamentary, district, and city elections. The U.S. Embassy in Freetown co-sponsored the meeting, which was attended by members of parliament, representatives of several national political parties, and by Minister of Defense and National Security Alfred Palo Conteh. Also attending were U.S. Ambassador Michael S. Owen, as well as representatives from the United Nations police, the European Union, and the Embassies of China and the United Kingdom. Opening remarks by several speakers were covered by the media. Follow-on presentations and discussions were conducted under the Africa Center’s strict policy of non-attribution.

“With elections only about six months away, the most pressing immediate security concern is for Sierra Leone … to maintain this environment that will allow you to conduct free, fair, transparent, and violence-free (more…)

The Never-Ending AFRICOM Story – Plus al-Qaeda affiliates in Africa

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on May 8, 2012

There’s more language about the location of the headquarters of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) in the just-released version of the FY 2013 Defense Authorization bill that went out May 7 by  Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. It’s on page 588 of a 595-page draft bill. We’re still fairly early in the legislative process, but the issue of where AFRICOM should be located has been percolating for more than half a decade now.

The draft bill also asks the Defense Department to provide an update on the strategy to address extremist groups that have or seek ties to al-Qaeda, including several regional groups in Africa.

First, here’s the AFRICOM language:

Geographic Positioning of the Headquarters for U.S. Africa Command

In the committee report (H. Rept. 112-78) accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, the committee directed the Secretary of Defense to conduct an analysis of the placement of the headquarters of the U.S. Africa Command and report the findings to the congressional defense committees by April 1, 2012. The committee was disappointed that the report was not completed by that deadline, but has granted the Secretary an extension through July 1, 2012.
The committee continues to believe that the establishment of U.S. Africa Command as a geographic combatant command was an appropriate response to meet the national security challenges originating in, and transiting through, the African region. The committee also believes that the physical location of the (more…)

Downrange vs Africa

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on February 28, 2012
Google search results: Downrange vs Africa

Our uniformed military folks, including AFRICOM personnel, likes to use the word "downrange" for any deployment, including to Africa. But the two words conjure very different images.

I put this slide together a couple of years ago, so its exact results might differ with an updated Google search.

For a lot of good reasons related to diplomacy, politics, funding, and access to continent-wide transport, communications and logistics infrastructure, U.S. AFRICOM won’t have its headquarters in Africa. Stuttgart, Germany, actually is a sensible place for an organization with an Africa-wide charter, because Germany is approximately at the center of African time zones, and Stuttgart is an hourlong flight from most European capitals, where you can get a direct flight to nearly every African capital. Hardly any location in Africa would offer those kinds of transport advantages.

However, one downside is the fact that Africa is then viewed as remote for Europe-based staff, the majority of whom don’t often travel to the grand continent. Members of the U.S. military use the word “downrange” for a deployment location away from home, and they commonly use this term when referring to Africa.

The word downrange, of course, is a term used during military training, usually to identify a place inside of a target area used for live ammunition. Those who’ve been through military basic training will recall drill sergeants ordering them to keep their weapons pointed downrange, for example.

Google search of "downrange" vs "Africa communities"

Here's the results of a Google search of "downrange" compared to "Africa communities" - Our military generally works in and near communities.

I first heard the phrase “downrange” used as a geographic  reference in late 1995 and early 1996, when the Germany-based 1st Armored Division deployed on the NATO mission in Bosnia. For military deployments into potential danger zones, U.S.-based troops have long said they were deploying “overseas,” and that was sufficiently accurate. However, Germany-based troops already lived overseas with their families in relatively secure communities, so they needed a different phrase to distinguish their deployment locale. A few years earlier, the deployments to the first Persian Gulf War were usually referred to as “the desert,” a phrase amplified by the operational names of Desert Shield/Desert Storm. The 1995-’96 Bosnia mission needed a different phrase for a deployment into an austere environment, potentially in harm’s way, and far from the comfort and security of family and overseas military communities. Hence “downrange.”

However, the problem with downrange is that it doesn’t really create an accurate visual picture of Africa. Unlike classic “downrange” locations of the past two decades, nearly all of Africa is at peace, with stable U.S. Embassy communities and permanent staff assigned with their families as part of large international communities. A couple of years ago I sat in on a briefing in Djibouti in which a seasoned NCO was preparing troops for a mission outside the camp. He repeated, more than a dozen times, the phrase “We are not at war in Africa” as a way of exhorting military people to set aside their deployment mindsets developed outside of Africa.

With the departure of most forces from Iraq, and a plan to depart from Afghanistan, I expect the deployment vocabulary gradually will shift. Until that happens, I’ll continue my quiet campaign of helping to remind uniformed military folks of the images they convey when they speak of going “downrange” when they really mean they want to visit African communities.

Washington, D.C., and New York City have come under attack. So perhaps those are the places we should be referring to as “Downrange.”

World AIDS Day, AFRICOM, and some recent HIV reporting in Africa

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on December 4, 2011

Each Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day. I filed a story a few weeks ago from Botswana that highlights the role that military is taking in HIV. The U.S. military has been working with African militaries on HIV programs for more than a decade.

Doctors at a military hospital in Botswana perform an adult-circumcision operation on a member of the Botswana Defence Force on October 25, 2011, as part of a military initiative to reduce the risk of HIV/AIDS infection. (AFRICOM photo by Vince Crawley)

Forbes this weekend published an  op-ed by James K. Glassman, “How to Build on Success Against AIDS in Africa,” that highlights progress in recent years. For example, he recommends leveraging HIV clinics to fight other diseases along with HIV. Glassman writes that U.S. taxpayers have invested $6 billion in  programs to fight AIDS/HIV in Africa, and he notes that reduced AIDS deaths and HIV infection rates are translating to high growth in African economies. In a separate story this weekend,  the Europe print edition of the Economist has the cover story “Africa Rising” that says after decades of stagnation Africa is poised for record economic growth on par with the Asian tigers, though plenty of potential pitfalls remain.

My story below looks at the Botswana Defence Force’s work in HIV. The U.S. military began training African peacekeepers in the late 1990s and soon thereafter become involved in HIV/AIDS programs because of the issues surrounding deploying HIV-positive military members or deploying military members to high-HIV areas.

Recently, the U.S. Centers of Disease Control in Botswana also was awarded a $20 million Harvard study aimed at seeing if focused attention on a combination of programs can reduce new HIV infection rates by 50 percent over two years in targeted communities.

A sign in the entry way of Botswana's land force headquarters emphasizes the military importance of combating HIV/AIDS during a visit by U.S. Africa Command officials in October 2011. (AFRICOM photo by Vince Crawley)

Botswana Defence Force Combats HIV

By Vince Crawley, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs

GABORONE, Botswana, Nov 4, 2011 — With assistance from the U.S. military, the Botswana Defence Force plays a leading role in helping to combat HIV/AIDS infection rates in the southern African country of 2 million people, where more than 20 percent of adults carry the deadly virus. The U.S. military health program supports a much larger U.S. government effort that since 2005 has invested more than $450 million to fight HIV/AIDS in Botswana.

Separately, Botswana is among four African nations awarded a combined $45 million by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to test whether a group of coordinated intensive programs can reduce stubbornly high HIV infection rates. The Botswana portion of the grant, $20 million, will evaluate the cost effectiveness of a unique combination of treatment and awareness programs. The study, by the Harvard School of Public Health, is funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Botswana’s military, numbering approximately 12,000 personnel and focused on preventing wildlife and livestock poaching, has been “very responsive” in raising awareness and providing treatment for HIV, said David Kelapile, the U.S. Defense Department’s HIV coordinator in Botswana, during a late-October visit by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) officials. The Botswana Defence Force, or BDF, recently launched a campaign for medical male circumcision, which, according to studies by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, reduces risk of HIV infection by 50 to 75 percent among heterosexual males.

Circumcision was once common in Botswana as part of the Bogwera ceremony in which young males reaching puberty underwent (more…)

U.S. Africa Command: A Journey of Decades

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on August 31, 2011

By Vince Crawley

A Somali girl at a refugee camp in Wajir, Kenya,January 1993. Photo by Vince Crawley

I wrote and  published the below essay, minus the lengthy footnotes, as part of our March 2011 photo book “U.S. Africa Command: The First Three Years …” However, I think the footnotes and sources help contribute to the public discussion of the origins of U.S. AFRICOM, a subject in which opinions often have been presented freely as facts and vice versa. My thesis, not necessarily strongly stated in the paper, is that the creation of U.S. Africa Command was not a radical departure from long-established U.S. foreign policy in Africa, as some perceived, but instead represented a logical progression in U.S. military interaction with African nations and regional organizations.

This is, in many respects, still a work in progress. I would welcome any corrections, clarifications, or additions. 

14th CENTURY KING - This bronze image of a ruler of the kingdom of Ife, in modern-day Nigeria, was created in the 1300s and today is one of the prized masterpieces in the British Museum in London. Arts and culture have flourished for thousands of years across Africa, a continent of 1 billion people, more than 1,000 languages and more than 50 nations, each with its own distinct history. (photo by Vince Crawley)

The U.S. Africa Command was a concept long in the making prior to the February 2007 announcement of its creation.

Beginning with Morocco — which in 1787 became the first nation to establish diplomatic relations with the newly independent United States — U.S. strategic and defense interests have included Africa. However, before 2007, defense engagement with the continent of Africa was viewed as an extension of geo-political environments elsewhere, and therefore not a priority in its own right.[1] The command’s establishment was partly a recognition of the growing unsuitability of this approach, as well as the realization that long-term U.S. security objectives would be better served through a dedicated geographic combatant command exercising sustained security engagement with the nations and regional organizations of Africa.

The U.S. military certainly has not been a stranger in Africa, although throughout U.S. history the vast majority of military activities were comparatively small-scale, shorter term in duration, and limited in their objectives. [2] Some of the earliest U.S. military actions were against Barbary pirates along the North African coast in 1801-05, and again in 1815. In the early and mid-1800s, U.S. ships sometimes took part in anti-slavery patrols off the west coast of the African continent. In 1912, the U.S. Army assigned approximately five African American officers to train a Liberian border force.[3]

The onset of World War II saw northern Africa serve as a battleground of the European theater.

In 1997, the first year of the African Crisis Response Initiative peacekeeper training, Senegalese soldiers train with U.S. Special Forces at Camp Thies. Photo by Vince Crawley for Stars and Stripes

Tens of thousands of U.S. troops fought against German-led Axis powers in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Today the graves of 2,841 Americans are honored at the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial in the ancient city of Carthage.[4]

After World War II, U.S. military engagement with Africa was principally viewed through a Cold War lens.[5] U.S. troops were stationed in Morocco (including Nouasseur Air Base near Casablanca, Rabat Salé Air Base, and Port Lyautey, north of Rabat, until the early 1960s) ,  and Libya (Wheelus Air Base near Tripoli until 1970), where they focused on dissuading Soviet threats.[6] From the end of World War II through the 1970s, there also was a large communications relay facility, Kagnew Station, in Asmara, Ethiopia, which today is in Eritrea. The facility was at the edge of the Ethiopian mountains just inland from the Red Sea and in the early 1970s housed 1,900 personnel and 1,600 family members. Fighting related to the Eritrea’s secession from Ethiopia (more…)

Memorial Day in North Africa Echoes Past and Present Struggles for Freedom

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on June 1, 2011

By Vince Crawley, U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs

CARTHAGE, Tunisia, May 31, 2011 — At a Memorial Day observance at the World War II cemetery in North Africa, the U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia spoke of past and present sacrifices for freedom and of the sacrifices Tunisia’s people have made this year in their own democratic revolution; and General Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command, spoke of the link between today’s service members and those of the past.

CARTHAGE, Tunisia - General Carter Ham and U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia Gordon Gray pay honors during a Memorial Day observance May 30, 2011, at the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial in Carthage, Tunisia. (Photo by Vince Crawley)

Flanked by U.S. and Tunisian military honor guards, with flags of both nations fluttering in the breeze from the nearby Mediterranean Sea and Gulf of Tunis, military and diplomatic officials gathered at the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial on the outskirts of the ancient city of Carthage. The site is one of 24 overseas American burial grounds from past wars.

“This cemetery is the final resting place of heroes. They were part of our nation’s greatest generation,” Ham, the AFRICOM commander, said. “Buried here, they remain in our memories forever young. As you have heard: 2,841 service members and civilians laid to rest here, along with the names of 3,724 service members and civilians who are missing. They’re not just names. They’re our history. They’re our legacy.”

Americans serving in uniform today “are the proud inheritors of their legacy,” Ham said at the May 30 ceremony.

“Today, brave men and women are deployed around the world, doing what is asked of them to protect our interests at home and to support those who seek freedom,” Ham said. “Selfless sacrifice remains the hallmark of the American military. That was true in 1942 and remains true today.”

The U.S. Memorial Day is a time to honor those who have fallen while serving their nation. Ambassador Gordon Gray, the U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia for the past four years, said it is “humbling” to remember that even today American military men and women who’ve lost their lives serving the nation “join their fellow heroes” at military cemeteries in the United States.

Gray noted that that Memorial Day observances originated after the American Civil War and that this year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of America’s bloodiest conflict, which resulted in the freeing of millions of enslaved Americans. (more…)