COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Soldiers and trainees got a unique opportunity to meet and train with the Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper, May 21, at Fort Jackson.

Esper, a retired pathfinder and Ranger qualified lieutenant colonel, didn't hesitate to join trainees during basic combat training at Victory Tower during his tour.

"I had a wonderful visit today," Esper said. "I had a chance to meet with a group of drill sergeants and observe several hours of basic training that's happening down here."

Esper came to Columbia to attend the Civilian Aid to the Secretary of the Army Conference. These civilian aids, often referred to as CASAs, are business and community leaders appointed to advise and work with local military leaders to bridge the gap between Army and civilian communities.

CASAs also assist with Army recruiting efforts and advise the Secretary of the Army on public sentiments towards the Army.

As the Secretary of the Army, Esper has statutory responsibilities for matters relating to the Army that include recruitment, organization, training, equipping and care for 1.4 million active-duty, National Guard, Reserve component Soldiers, Department of the Army Civilians and their Families. A visit to Fort Jackson was an opportunity to see his efforts in action.

"I'm very impressed with what Fort Jackson is doing with regard to training America's next generation of young Soldiers," Esper said.

Escorted by his wife Leah, the pair toured remote sites where trainees were conducting Forge operations. They also observed trainees at Victory Tower where the tables turned and trainees observed their Secretary of the Army conduct the same training they were. Esper, without hesitation, tied himself into his Swiss Seat and rappelled Victory Tower alongside other trainees.

"It's important for leaders to lead and show by example," Esper said. "These are important tasks.

That whole setup up there is about teaching confidence more than it's about teaching a skill."

In the wake of the privatized military housing crisis, Esper and his wife took time to visit the Escamilla Family, Fort Jackson military housing residents. Here, Esper spoke to the Family about a water leakage issue that took longer than expected to be repaired and may have been linked to illnesses their daughter endured.

While Fort Jackson housing was formally inspected in the wake of the crisis, the damages and unaddressed repairs that were found were minimal. The Escamilla Family's leak issues have since been resolved.

Later in the afternoon Esper met with Soldier Support Institute Soldiers and leaders. While at the institute, he participated in a media engagement alongside Congressman Joe Wilson from South Carolina's Second District. The pair spoke about the day's tour and the CASA conference.

Esper and Wilson spoke about many topics, but the most dominate was the Army's plan to increase its number of active-duty Soldiers and what impact that will have in Columbia.

"The Army is growing," Esper said. "Right now we are ramping up to 480,000 (Soldiers). Right now we are projecting a steady state growth of 2,000 (Soldiers) year over year."

The Army's goal is to have 500,000 Soldiers on active duty status by the year 2028.

Wilson said an increase of Soldiers cycling through basic combat training at Fort Jackson could mean increased revenue throughout the Midlands. Every graduating class means traveling Families will need housing, meals, fuel and other services that are provided by the city. This could mean a boost in profits to local business owners, big and small.

"Over 60,000 persons come through training here every year," Wilson said. "At any one time we have 10,000 persons in training in Basic Combat Training. I don't think people realize how many people come through here and what that means to the economy. The ripple effect is so positive for South Carolina."

As the tour and media engagement came to a close, Esper and his wife boarded a plane to return to the District of Columbia to continue his work, share the information he gathered from the CASA conference and his observances of Fort Jackson's Basic Combat Training.