Former Raytheon [RTN] lobbyist and West Point graduate Mark T. Esper was sworn in Nov. 21 as Secretary of the Army, adopting near-term readiness as his top priority as the service’s 23rd senior civilian leader.

Esper is the final confirmed service secretary to take office under the Trump administration. Acting secretaries have held the position since January.

In a message to the service released after a swearing-in ceremony, Esper said readiness is his number-one priority, echoing the primary leadership focus of Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.

Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper.
Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper.

That means “ensuring the Total Army is ready to deploy, fight and win across the entire spectrum of conflict, with an immediate focus on preparing for a high-end fight against a near-peer adversary,” Epser said. “Improving Readiness is the benchmark for everything we do; it should guide our decision-making.”

He also recognizes the Army’s dire need to modernize its weapons, vehicles and other combat and training systems. He set the long-term goal of building Army capacity and capability for future wars.

“This means growing our operational force while maintaining quality, reshaping it to be more robust and successful in all domains, and modernizing it with the best weapons and equipment available to guarantee clear overmatch in future conflicts,” Esper said.

To modernize efficiently and affordably in an increasingly digital world will require acquisition reform within the Army and the Defense Department writ large, Esper said. Reforming the Army’s procurement and technology development processes will be another of his priorities as secretary.

Reform efforts will include “improving the way we do business, including how we implement these priorities, to make the Total Army more lethal, capable, and efficient,” Esper said. “This means changing the organizations, policies, processes, and tasks that consume time, money, or manpower without delivering real value, and applying the savings to our top priorities.”

Esper most recently was Raytheon’s top government lobbyist, overseeing several high-profile Army programs. He has promised to recuse himself from any Army matters dealing with those programs or Raytheon in general for at least two years. He also told Congress he would not seek a waiver to circumnavigate the need for recusal.

During his confirmation before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) asked Esper whether he would recuse himself from Raytheon-related Army business for the duration of his term.Esper declined, but said he would revisit his recusal with SASC at the end of the first two years if he were confirmed and remained in the position.

Esper began his career as an infantry officer in the 101st Airborne Division and served during the first Gulf War in 1991. He later served on active duty in Europe and on the Army staff in Washington, D.C., before transitioning to the National Guard. He retired from the Army after 21 years of service. 

Leaning on his years in uniformed, Esper said in his message to the force that “people are the Army’s greatest asset.”

“I fully understand and acknowledge the sacrifices our Soldiers and Families have given to our great Army, especially during the previous 16 years of sustained combat operations,” he said. “Thanks to your service, our Army remains the world’s premier ground combat force and the bedrock of our Nation’s defense. This is why the readiness and welfare of our Soldiers, Civilians, and their Families will always be foremost in my mind, and why I intend to pursue initiatives that will offer the professional opportunities and quality of life all deserve.”

Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) president and chief executive retired Gen. Carter Ham, welcomed Esper’s confirmation in a statement following the 89-6 Senate vote. 

“With Dr. Esper’s confirmation, the top leadership of the Army is now fully in place and, ideally, will remain so for the next few years,” Ham said in a statement. “Esper, General [Mark] Milley, Undersecretary [Ryan] McCarthy, General [James] McConville and Sergeant Major of the Army [Daniel] Dailey comprise exactly the right team to lead the Army during a particularly critical time. All of us at AUSA stand ready to support them and the soldiers they lead.”