Outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. forces have been targeted by hostile fire in just one other place on the planet recently.

Though little noticed outside of the Pentagon, the attack occurred last week (Sept. 11) in Mali, a northwest African state that the Pentagon fears could become home to training bases or other havens for terrorists.

A U.S. C-130 transport plane was hit by machine-gun fire after it dropped seven tons of food to Malian government soldiers fending off Tuareg rebels near the border with Algeria. No U.S. troops were injured and the plane suffered minor damage.

But the incident drew even more attention to the roll-out of the new U.S. military focus on Africa, which has stirred objections from some Africans who fear America will meddle in their affairs.

On Oct. 1, the Pentagon will launch its first ever Africa Command, which will be on the lookout for terrorist inroads, as well as attempt to build relationships with some of the 53 national militaries and keep an eye on China’s push to build its influence there.

Partly to deflect the impression that a heavy-handed U.S. presence is descending on the continent, there will be no one large AFRICOM headquarters operation. Instead, there will be several smaller outfits scattered around the region to lower the profile.

A big brouhaha has broken out over the placement of “In God We Trust” on new presidential dollar coins. The Christian Coalition of America is greatly displeased that the phrase appears not on the face or back of the $1 coins, but on the edges of the coins instead. The group says you practically have to be Sherlock Holmes with a magnifying glass to find the phrase, which is written in tiny letters.

The organization is putting its weight behind a House bill, with 100 co-sponsors so far, that would direct the U.S. Mint to redesign the coins and place the motto prominently on either the front or back. This controversy comes shortly after the Mint unveiled the third of four presidential coins to go into circulation this year under a new program to honor the presidents sequentially.

Surprise, surprise, surprise. Gomer Pyle will soon be promoted to the “rank” of corporal. Jim Nabors, who played the sweet but slow Marine Corps Private First Class Gomer Pyle in TV prime-time from 1964 to 1969, will receive his honorary promotion Sept. 25 — the 43rd anniversary of the once-wildly popular show’s debut.

Though goofy and inept, Gomer was always honest, loyal and devoted to duty, so the Marines made Nabors an honorary leatherneck in 2001, and threw in a complementary promotion to lance corporal. Nabors, now 77, deserves another promotion because of his continuing contributions to a positive Marine Corps image.

To which Gomer no doubt would have responded, “Gollleee.”

Politics-watchers think they may have detected the first signs of a Red-to-Blue shift in some bellwether southern states. In Kentucky, a GOP state representative last week switched his party from Republican to Democrat. The crossover by Rep. Milward Dedman is the first in the Bluegrass State in 30 years. His defection comes months after well-respected GOP congressional Rep. Anne Northup was beaten by a Democrat.

One state over, the decision by former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a popular Democrat, last week to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by retiring Republican Sen. John Warner may open the door to the state having two Democratic senators for the first time since 1970. Last November, GOP Sen. George Allen lost his seat to Democratic contender Jim Webb.

The red-hot illegal immigration issue has drawn an array of demonstrations to Washington in recent years, but one slated for Tuesday (Sept. 18) will be a first: A protest by highly skilled legal immigrants who say the nation’s employment-based immigration system is choked by 10-year delays, lost files, bureaucratic errors and arbitrary judgments.

Hundreds of foreign-born doctors, engineers, scientists and others legally working in the United States want to send the message that the tortuous green-card process is a major reason some skilled immigrants end up staying illegally. They feel they are penalized for following the country’s immigration rules because their lives are put on hold for as long as a decade, and say one way to curb illegal immigration is to fix the legal system.

SHNS correspondent Michael Collins contributed to this column.

(E-mail Lisa Hoffman at hoffmanL(at)shns.com.)