FORT KNOX, Ky. -- In his first visit to Fort Knox since becoming Secretary of the Army in November, Dr. Mark Esper met with leaders from various commands and discussed his priorities as secretary including personnel management, reform, readiness, and Army Families.

During Friday's visit, Esper said he was very pleased with all he had learned during his meetings with leaders from Fort Knox, U.S. Army Human Resources Command, U.S. Army Cadet Command and U.S. Army Reserve Aviation Command. During his visit to HRC, he sat through a mock promotion board to get a feel for how personnel management works.

"We are a very people-oriented service, so it's important for me to get an understanding for what they [at HRC] do and how they do it," said Esper. "Of course, one of my initiatives is to get a very talent-based personnel system, and I was very pleased to see and hear what the Human Resources Command is doing along those lines, and what their plans are moving ahead, and I'm encouraged by what I saw."

Esper explained that a talent-based personnel system is critical to moving forward in the Army and streamlining how the Army conducts its day-to-day business of taking care of personnel.

"It's taking a much closer look at an individual's knowledge, skills, behaviors and preferences," he said.

In his first address to the Army in November last year, Esper explained his priorities, the third of which is reform -- "improving the way we do business, including how we implement these priorities, to make the Total Army more lethal, capable, and efficient," he 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."

He found ways to emphasize many of his priorities while at Fort Knox. He spoke about the need for all components of the Army, to include the Reserve, to implement his number one priority: readiness.

"It's critical given in previous years we saw a drop in funding for the United States military, so we're building it back up," said Esper. "We're using this great funding we got from Congress in FY18 and we expect to get in FY19. It's allowing us to improve readiness across both the regular Army, the National Guard and Reserve. There's really close integration between all three components. That's why I always speak about the Total Army."

Esper has served in all three components.

"One of the pleasant surprises I've had coming back to the service is how well integrated all three are these days," he said. "When I left active duty in 1996, the U.S. Army Reserve and the U.S. Army National Guard were more of a strategic reserve, and now they are clearly an operational element that's engaged all around the world.

"In fact, as I've traveled my first … four-and-a-half months, whether it was in the Pacific, in Afghanistan, in the Middle East or Europe, I've bumped into and met with Guard and Reserve Soldiers everywhere I've gone. They are performing extremely well and I'm quite pleased with what I'm finding."

He also talked about his impression of Fort Knox.

"It's a beautiful post. We have multiple commands here doing important things," said Esper. "Next time I visit I hope to spend some time with Recruiting Command and if I can make it back this summer, [I hope to] see the cadets cycle in.

"Everybody's focused on the mission [here]," he continued. "They understand the importance of readiness -- quite pleased with what I saw, the caliber of talent here."

Lastly, Esper spoke on the importance of Army Families to the success of the mission.

"Families are absolutely critical to our service," he said. "We like to say we recruit a Soldier and retain a Family. When I was on active duty as a young lieutenant, I married my wife. She spent 20 years with me in the service. Two of our kids were born in the service … at military hospitals.

"We understand the importance of the Family, the impacts that military service demands of Army Families," continued Esper. "I would say the toughest job in the Army is being the spouse of a service member."