FORT RILEY, Kan. -- Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper spoke on the vital role that Soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division play as they protect and reassure allies in the face of strategic competitors during his first visit to Fort Riley, Kansas, May 4.

"We are now focused on strategic competitors such as Russia and China," Esper said. "The 1st Infantry Division has a storied history. It is one of our great units and, if called upon in the future, I am confident that it will prevail once again. The 1st Infantry Division needs to continue to build its readiness and enhance the lethality of the force as we move ahead."

The secretary said training with international allies - something the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, is currently doing in Europe - is critical to long-term security around the globe.

"The fact that the 'Big Red One' can be over in Europe training with our allies not only builds that interoperability and partnership with our allies, but also provides reassurance to them that the United States will be there as a NATO treaty party should a conflict come," he said.

Esper started his busy day by joining Soldiers of the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division for a functional fitness PT session. Esper also met with officers, noncommissioned officers and spouses of the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade for breakfast before joining the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, as the "Devil" brigade conducted live-fire training on one of the vast ranges offered at the post.

Esper fielded questions from Soldiers, spouses and civilians during a town hall meeting held at Barlow Theater. He also talked of how the Army is looking to gain approximately 15,000 Soldiers over the next three years. He expects more Soldiers will help improve the quality of life and dwell time for Soldiers between deployments.

In his day-long tour and visit of the historic 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley post, it was evident to Esper that the Soldiers here are willing and able to carry on with the fighting success of the Big Red One Soldiers that came before them.

"I saw professionalism, a commitment to service to our country and an interest in the direction of the Army," Esper said of the Soldiers he met.