On a day filled with ceremonial precision, Mark Esper — a former paratrooper, infantry officer and combat veteran — became the 23rd secretary of the Army.
After a brief swearing-in ceremony at the Pentagon, senior military leaders, congressional officials and soldiers welcomed Esper into his new post with a formal arrival ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia.
Polished units such as the United States Army Band, known as Pershing’s Own, and the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as The Old Guard, honored Esper and his family.
“This morning, I had the great honor of being sworn as the 23rd secretary of the Army by Secretary of Defense Mattis,” Esper said. “For over 25 years, I had the privilege … to wear the uniform of the greatest and most lethal ground force in modern history, and I would say in all history.”
During his service, the graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point said it was his honor to have served in the 101ST Airborne Division, the 82nd Airborne Division and the Virginia National Guard’s 29th Infantry Division — “three great units whose history is written in blood from the beaches and drop zones of Normandy to the battlefields and forward operating bases of the Middle East.”
Esper, who served as a member of the 101st during the 1991 Gulf War, said he understands “the challenges of military service, the importance of readiness, the rigors of wartime deployment and how that impacts our soldiers and their families.”
He called soldiers “the Army’s greatest asset” and promised to make their welfare and readiness his top priority. He also pledged to make modernization and acquisition reform top priorities during his tenure.
Esper’s nomination to the post was the third attempt by President Donald Trump’s administration to fill the Army’s top civilian job.
Businessman Vincent Viola, Trump’s first nominee for Army secretary, withdrew from consideration, citing his inability to successfully navigate the confirmation process and Defense Department rules concerning family businesses.
Tennessee State Sen. Mark Green was Trump’s second choice, but Green withdrew his nomination after coming under fire during the review process for past unfavorable comments about the LGBTQ community as well as Muslims.
Esper served as president of government relations for Raytheon Co., the world’s largest missile-maker and one of the five biggest U.S. defense contractors.
He also served for a number of years on Capitol Hill.
Esper’s last assignment was as director of national security affairs for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Earlier in his career, he was policy director for the House Armed Services Committee and a senior professional staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Senate Government Affairs Committee.
In addition, Esper served as the legislative director and senior policy adviser for Sen. Chuck Hagel.
He earned a master’s of public administration degree from the JFK School of Government at Harvard University and a doctorate from George Washington University.
Esper told the audience, “It is clear to me that the most difficult task the Army faces is ensuring that we are ready for today’s fight while simultaneously preparing for future ones.
“To everyone gathered here today, let me reassure you that your Army is ready to fight and win when the nation calls,” he said.