Commanding Influence

The Defense Department is drawing strength from other agencies in its efforts to foster stability in Africa.

In the fall of 2007, Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates, then a senior foreign policy adviser to the Defense Department's European Command, made an unprecedented career move. She became the first ambassador to serve as deputy to a four-star military commander. The Pentagon had decided after years of study to establish a new regional headquarters-Africa Command. But the new organization would be different from the others. Building from scratch, Defense officials had the rare chance to tailor an organization to fit the evolving strategic environment-one that demanded more than military expertise.

Instead of building a command that mirrors the other military headquarters-European Command, Central Command, Southern Command, Pacific Command and Northern Command-the architects are creating an organization that will include the views and experiences of nonmilitary agencies. Dozens of senior positions at the fledgling command, which won't stand up officially as an independent headquarters until Oct. 1, are to be filled by individuals from agencies outside the Defense Department and military services.

"I love Africa and I understood what the military was trying to accomplish in this arena, so I threw my hat in the ring," says Yates, who served in posts throughout Africa during a 28-year Foreign Service career, including stints as ambassador to Ghana in 2002 and Burundi in 1999. She also knew Gen. William E. "Kip" Ward, the soldier tapped to lead the new command and former deputy commander at European Command. Her confidence in Ward was one of the reasons she sought the position, she says.

"My goal is that when I finish my tour in this command that they absolutely want another senior civilian State Department officer here. Then, I will have succeeded," Yates says.

Outside Brass

While unified commands recognize the roles and contributions of other federal agencies, such as the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, Africa Command is incorporating senior personnel from those agencies by placing them in key leadership positions. "They are part of our organization," says Ward, "sitting in seats of staff responsibility helping to direct the efforts of the command, as opposed to being liaison officers from [other agencies] to the command."

The organization is designed with the idea that to be most effective, whether training foreign militaries or providing humanitarian assistance, the U.S. military must have a comprehensive understanding of the roles played by State and USAID and other agencies, as well as the various cultures at play in the 53 African countries. It's an obvious point, but not one that historically has been inculcated in Defense culture. With a budget that dwarfs all other agencies combined, Defense isn't always compelled to coordinate and cooperate with other agencies.

Nonetheless, "we've had no trouble attracting people [from other agencies]," says Ward. "The issue is the capability . . . to provide personnel. Agencies are looking at how they can support this with a finite level of resources."

Language Barrier

Mary Pleffner, a former Commerce Department executive and, since late February, the director of resources at Africa Command, was lured by the prospect of playing a role in economic development in Africa, as well as the opportunity to live in Europe. The command is headquartered at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany.

"There is no career track [at Commerce for an assignment with the military] per se, but it's the kind of assignment that should be career enhancing," says Pleffner, a member of the Senior Executive Service. The most challenging aspect has been the language barrier-not with foreign counterparts, but with her new colleagues at Defense.

"There were times I would get e-mail and I couldn't understand it at all," Pleffner says. "DoD speaks in acronyms. You get an e-mail and it's acronym after acronym, using the acronyms as words. If you don't know what they mean, you don't know what that e-mail says."

Initially, she had to ask members of her staff to translate. But clearly she's feeling more at home with the language: "I would sit in meetings and the director of the IKD would sit next to me and pass me notes explaining what the acronyms meant." That would be the director of intelligence and knowledge development, a position that doesn't exist at other military commands.

Pleffner says Africa Command could provide the template for fostering interagency cooperation. "I think the Senior Executive Service as a whole would benefit by not only supporting this command and this opportunity, but if that concept were spread throughout government, I think it would be highly beneficial. The benefit the executive gains by learning how other agencies do what they do and how that contributes to the whole of government, and vice versa, is a benefit to all our African partners as well as throughout government."

Ward thinks Africa Command could become a model for other military commands and for federal agencies to work together more effectively. "For me, [the goal] is laying a foundation that we can continue to grow," she says.

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