President Obama named an occasional adviser on African affairs, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, as his special envoy to the Sudan on Wednesday.

Gration, a former Air Force officer, had endorsed Obama for president, and traveled with the then-senator to Africa in 2006.

"I have worked closely and directly with General Gration for several years, and have traveled with him to refugee camps in Chad filled with those who were displaced by the genocide in Darfur," the president said in a statement. "He is a valued personal friend and I am pleased he has accepted this assignment."

"Sudan is a priority for this Administration, particularly at a time when it cries out for peace and for justice," he added. "The worsening humanitarian crisis there makes our task all the more urgent."

Gration, who was raised in Africa for part of his youth, also reportedly speaks Swahili.