Washington, DC – During a ceremonial welcome for Army Secretary Mark T. Esper at the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes on Friday (Jan. 5), Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said the U.S. Military Academy graduate is the best person to lead the service forward.
Esper, who has been on the job since Nov. 20, also had a ceremonial welcome earlier at nearby Fort Myer.
Mattis joked during the Pentagon welcome, telling Esper’s wife, Leah, that the job entails a cut in pay, long hours and no holidays.
Esper graduated from West Point in 1986 and served with the 101st Airborne Division during Operation Desert Storm, where he earned the Bronze Star and Combat Infantryman’s Badge.
He transferred to the reserve components, and retired as a lieutenant colonel. He earned advanced degrees from Harvard University and the George Washington University, and he served with the Heritage Foundation, in the Defense Department, at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at the House Armed Services Committee, and, since 2010, was a senior executive of the Raytheon Co.
Making US Military More Lethal, Capable
The Army secretary’s experiences will benefit the service, Mattis said. “What we are out to do right now is make the US military more lethal and more capable,” he added.
Still, Mattis said, civilian leaders are not chosen for their past performance. “That is all prelude,” he explained. “What we have here is someone we are confident can take the Army forward, that has the right value system [and] understands if something is not contributing to lethality, it is going into the dustbin of history … very, very quickly.”
Mattis stressed that the defense of the United States, the defense and protection of its citizens and the values they hold dear is a nonpartisan issue. “The bottom line is the virtuous and vile alike have written history, but let’s remember here today that we’re the good guys … and this is the man who can take us forward,” the defense secretary said.
Esper told Mattis that the Army leadership is on the same wavelength as he is and understands what he wants the Army to do. “We all understand the rigors of wartime, we understand the importance of training and being prepared for combat, and we are all prepared to make sure that our country, our Army, is ready should we be called upon again,” he said.
Leading the Army “is a homecoming for me,” Esper said, adding that he can think of no greater honor than holding the job.
But there are challenges, he said, and he promised to face them. Readiness is an issue, and he said that is first and foremost in his mind: “being prepared to fight that hard, long, high-intensity fight.”
Following that, he said, he will concentrate on building the capacity and capabilities the Army needs to maintain its leading role in the future.
The Army secretary said his third priority is reform and freeing up the time, money and manpower to concentrate on the top two priorities.
Overarching these priorities is “taking care of our soldiers, our civilians and their families, because they are the backbone of our service,” and living by the Army values, Esper said.
“I have become convinced over time that a rededication to those values – treating everyone with dignity and respect and doing the right thing – serves the Army, the military and the country well in the long run,” he added.