Gen. William 'Kip' Ward to Lead U.S. Africa Command

Gen. William E. "Kip" Ward, the active military's only black four-star general, was tapped Tuesday to lead the Pentagon's new Africa Command.

Ward, 58, currently deputy commander of U.S. European Command, will take over a sprawling new command, which will work with African countries to strengthen governments and their militaries and make the nations less vulnerable to terrorist activities.

Initially the command will be run through the existing European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, but is expected to become an independent unit by the end of September 2008.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced in a press release that President Bush had nominated Ward for the new post.

"I am honored by President Bush's and Secretary Gates' confidence and look forward to the confirmation process," Ward said in a written statement. "In the meantime I remain focused on the important work of U.S. European Command."

According to the Pentagon, Africa Command will help "promote peace and security and respond to crises on the continent." It will also coordinate military support for other diplomatic and development programs.

U.S. officials are still working out the size and the location of the command, although there have been indications that portions of it will be established in several places around the continent.

Bush announced the formation of the Africa Command in February, saying it will "strengthen our security cooperation with Africa and create new opportunities to bolster the capabilities of our partners in Africa."

Ward graduated from Morgan State University's ROTC program and joined the military in 1971. He received his bachelor's degree from Morgan State, and his master's degree from Pennsylvania State University. Ward has held a number of overseas and staff posts, and served as commander of the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division in Somalia. He later was the commander of the stabilization force in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2000.

He became the fifth black to be promoted to the rank of general in the Army when he received his fourth star in May 2006, and he is the only one still serving. There are no black four-star generals currently serving in the Navy, Air Force or Marines.

The military has regional commands all around the world, including Pacific Command, which largely overseas Asian affairs; Central Command, which concentrates on the Middle East; and Southern Command, which focuses on Latin America.