WASHINGTON -- Three months ago when Dr. Mark T. Esper became secretary of the Army, he said he would focus on two enduring priorities during his tenure.

First, he committed to making sure that Soldiers, their Families, and civilians are well cared for, led, trained and equipped. Secondly, Esper wants to ensure everyone commits to Army Values, particularly leaders, who should treat everyone with dignity and respect.

Esper spoke on these priorities at a media press briefing Feb. 15 at the Pentagon.

One of the ways to ensure Soldiers are equipped to handle high-end threats from nations like China and Russia, he said, is to make brigade combat teams more lethal. The Army has been doing that in a variety of ways, including converting infantry brigade combat teams to armored BCTs, he said.

Additionally, those BCTs are being beefed up with more Soldiers, thanks to Congress providing additional funding for manning levels and equipment.

Besides that, BCTs are becoming more robust with additional equipment such as short-range air defense, indirect fire support, and various upgrades like more lethal firepower for Strykers, Esper said, noting that he was recently with Soldiers in Germany during a Stryker live-fire exercise.

BCTs are also now receiving more munitions and replacement parts, he added.

While it is very important for Soldiers in those BCTs to be training with partner nations, it's also important to get a good return on investment in the process, Esper noted. The Army, in consultation with the joint staff, is looking at its far-flung, worldwide commitments to determine where it might be able to consolidate, he said.

Currently, Soldiers are being deployed a lot more than they were four or five years ago, and at some point, that impacts readiness in a negative way -- meaning fatigue and time away from Families, the secretary noted.

FUNDING ASSESSMENT

Esper had praise for the fiscal year 2019 budget that was recently released and said he has asked lawmakers to always provide budgets that are "predictable, adequate, sustained and timely."

With regard to "timely," he said the appropriation process that takes place in Congress eats up many months of each fiscal year, so when authorization is finally granted, it's too late to spend for modernization, training or classroom seats.

If he was given one wish to ask of lawmakers, Esper responded that his would be "to allow me to spend O&M money over a period of two fiscal years," which smooth out the spending curve, Operation and maintenance is currently the largest portion of the budget after military personnel.

GREEN OUT, PINK IN

Esper was asked a number of other questions, including what he thinks of bringing back the World War II-era "Pink and Green" uniform.

He noted that the sergeant major of the Army was its biggest cheerleader and that he too is on board with the idea. A decision should be made by summer, pending congressional approval, which Esper said he thinks he has.

The secretary recalled his own 21 years Army service, which included 10 years on active duty in the 1980s and 1990s.

Back then, Soldiers were not too fond of the "Green" uniforms, he said. Soldiers were happy to see them phased out later on.

"It's difficult to explain the pride Soldiers take in their uniform appearance," Esper concluded. "It really makes a difference in terms of pride, confidence and esprit de corps. It's those intangibles that make a difference in combat."