FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- During his first visit to Fort Drum since being confirmed as the 23rd secretary of the Army, Dr. Mark T. Esper hosted a town hall event March 29 where he answered questions from 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers on topics ranging from equipment procurement to growing the Army and training requirements.

Esper said that his top three priorities as Army secretary are readiness, modernization, and reform. He addressed these priorities at the AUSA Global Force Symposium on March 26 in Huntsville, Alabama, where he emphasized that modernization will include acquisition reform so that new weapons and capabilities will get into the hands of Soldiers faster and at less cost.

"There are two other things that I've identified that I call enduring priorities," he said. "They're unchanging, they're built into the fabric of our Army. I know that during my 21 years of service, and I know in your time of service, they are very important."

The first is a commitment to take care of Soldiers, their Families and Department of the Army Civilians and to ensure that all have the quality of life they deserve. Second, Esper asked for a recommitment to the Army Values.

"Those are the themes that I emphasize whenever I talk to folks, and I've tried to spend a lot of time on the road, reacquainting myself with the Army and reassessing," he said.

One noncommissioned officer asked Esper what can be done to eliminate some of the mandatory online training that impedes Soldiers from conducting other warfighting training. Esper said that training reforms will address that and any additional duties that aren't related to increasing readiness and lethality.

"I'm a big believer that we need to re-empower junior leaders, particularly NCOs, to lead, coach and train our Soldiers," he said. "The way we do that is we start lifting things off your back -- starting with a lot of that mandatory training that is not required by law -- and put you in charge of your Soldiers. Then you determine how frequently you conduct this training or that training, its duration and how you do it."

Esper said that his training philosophy is to get offline, out of the room and into the field as often as possible.

When asked how the Army is bolstering relationships with its allies, Esper said that is evident within the 10th Mountain Division (LI). Earlier, he met with Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, who recently returned from a deployment to Africa. Esper said that their joint training with international partners both strengthens bonds and serves as a deterrent to adversaries in that country and around the world.

On the question of changing physical training requirements, Esper said that the decision to move away from the traditional Army Physical Fitness Test to a new Army Combat Readiness Test will be made in the coming weeks. If approved, Esper said the transition will be gradual so Soldiers have the proper training and equipment in place. The ACRT tests muscular strength, power and endurance with events to include a three-repetition dead lift, a medicine ball throw and two-mile run.

Esper said that trainers, physical therapists and nutritionists across the battalions will educate Soldiers about preventing injuries.

"It's not as simple as just changing the test," he said. "We want to make sure you have time to transition to the test and time to train safely. We also want to make sure the equipment is deployable."

He mentioned that his morning began with a PT session with Soldiers from 2nd Brigade, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team that included heavy ropes, heavy dumbbell presses and other functional fitness movement.

"You have some great facilities, and that's kind of a model of what we're looking at," he said.

Esper's visit to Fort Drum was also highlighted by a rappelling demonstration at the Light Fighters School and a discussion on the new winter warfare gear issued to Soldiers, as well as new winter survival training that was introduced last year when Fort Drum was re-designated as an Arctic Zone base.

Esper said that the 10th Mountain Division is focused on his top priority -- readiness -- and having the chance to tour the post showed him why this division is important to the Army.

"To me, it's been a real privilege to come up here to Fort Drum," he said. "The 10th Mountain has played a forefront in the Army's role in Iraq, Afghanistan and, naturally, all around the world, so it's a great chance to see these great Soldiers and find out what they're doing."