FORT EUSTIS, Va. -- The secretary of the Army gained a more in-depth understanding of how U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command designs, acquires, builds and improves the Army during his first visit to the command May 18.

Throughout the visit, Dr. Mark T. Esper and his spouse, Leah, had the opportunity to speak to Soldiers, civilians and spouses on a number of topics ranging from readiness to the role of the Army Family.

The day began at 6 a.m. when Esper met with leaders from TRADOC's Center for Initial Military Training to discuss the readiness of future Soldiers through the use of the Occupational Physical Assessment Test. The OPAT, which tests recruits' ability to perform the tasks specific to a military occupational specialty, will help put the right Soldier in the right MOS, resulting in a more ready Army.

"Improving readiness is the benchmark for everything we do; it should guide our decision-making," Esper said in his initial message to the force.

The secretary also received an update on CIMT's current efforts to improve the Army Physical Fitness Test as the service transitions from the APFT to the Army Combat Readiness Test. The ACRT is part of the Army's effort to optimize Holistic Health and Fitness and achieve combat readiness across the Army, and Esper was even able to participate in several ACRT events during the visit.

From there, Esper traveled to TRADOC headquarters to meet with senior leaders and get a more detailed understanding of what it takes for the command to build the Army of the future -- and discuss TRADOC's continuing role after the creation of Army Futures Command.

"TRADOC plays a very critical role in the Army and where we're headed," he said. "The importance of (TRADOC) as it designs the Army and acquires the Soldiers we need to fill that Army -- and build it -- will remain vitally important. They will have another peer alongside them in the shape of Army Futures Command to help lead our Army into the future."

The secretary then joined his spouse, Leah, for lunch with the Family Readiness Groups, which was followed by an opportunity for the couple to meet with Army spouses and emphasize the importance of taking care of Soldiers and their families.

"Every time Leah and I travel, we meet with civilian spouses groups and hold town halls so I can get a good feel on the pulse of the Army and field questions on how we can improve our Army," Esper said.

Another way the Army secretary continues to get a pulse on the Army is through talking with Soldiers. During his time on Fort Eustis, Esper got a firsthand look at how TRADOC is training Soldiers in two domains: sea, when he traveled to 3rd Port to observe Army Watercraft Operator training, and air, when he received an overview of the training happening within the 128th Aviation Brigade.

Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, TRADOC's commanding general, joined Esper during his visit to the 128th, which falls under TRADOC's Aviation Center of Excellence. Here, the two talked with Soldiers in Advanced Individual Training and learned how the schoolhouse is using technology to train new Soldiers.

Esper said the role the command plays in recruiting and training Soldiers is vital to the force's mission effectiveness.

"TRADOC plays a very critical role because the two functions it performs are recruiting those Soldiers and training them," he explained. "Bringing them into the force, making sure they're well prepared for assignment to the operational Army -- that is vital to our mission effectiveness."

From the 128th, the secretary and Mrs. Esper traveled to Jacobs Theater, where they conducted a town hall for Fort Eustis employees and their family members. With a direct opportunity to speak to the Army secretary, questions ranged from budget and personnel cuts to the use of artificial intelligence and robotic technology, in which Esper said the Army must lead the way.

"As far as the use of AI and automated technology or robotics, the answer is simple: We have to be first," he said. "By 2028, the Army will be sending manned and unmanned autonomous vehicles to the field. Think about the lives we could've saved in Kuwait if we had had this technology. Yes, our budget of 700 billion is a lot, but war is more expensive, and losing the war is even more expensive."

At the close of his time at TRADOC, the 23rd secretary of the Army thanked the leadership team for all they do, the community for its support, and the Soldiers, civilians and family members who together, continue the pulse of the Army.

"Thank you for all you do for the Army," Esper said. "I'm proud to serve with you."