When Sean Cook arrived with his cadets to Wood Range at Fort Knox July 3 to conduct a buddy live fire exercise, he discovered he couldn't have picked a better place for them to be.

As executive officer for the ROTC 6th Regiment out of Virginia Military Institute, Cook was told he and his cadets would be meeting Ryan McCarthy, the newly appointed senior official performing the duties of Secretary of the Army.

He had already met McCarthy.

"We were platoon leaders in 3rd Ranger Battalion back in 1998-2000," said Cook. "He's a young guy. He's got a young heart, and he really likes relating to the Soldiers."

After witnessing Cook's cadets on the range, McCarthy took some time from his busy schedule to talk about old times and share a laugh before heading back to Washington, D.C.

McCarthy has worked as Undersecretary of the Army for the past two years and was moved into the Secretary of the Army seat after President Donald Trump advanced then-Secretary of the Army Mark Esper to his leadership role at the Defense Department.

McCarthy arrived at Fort Knox July 2 in an official capacity to get a feel for all that goes on at the installation. On his first day, he visited officials at U.S. Army Recruiting Command and U.S. Army Human Resources Command. He devoted the bulk of his time July 3 with U.S. Army Cadet Command.

"We covered a lot of ground while we were here," said McCarthy. "HRC has some very good initiatives underway: That AIM 2.0 pilot, is a tool for us to help manage talent in the Army, gives Soldiers more information about opportunities that exist, and commanders to have more information about the types of officers and noncommissioned officers they can select and push into their units so they get the right talent mix and chemistry within an organization to be successful.

"I had a great discussion with Maj. Gen. [Joseph] Calloway, who has been on the job for about 48 hours."

McCarthy said he spent the afternoon with Recruiting Command leaders.

"We went end-to-end with where we are in the entire fiscal year '19 and some of the initiatives we're going to put into play end-of-summer, early-fall to build momentum in fiscal year 2020," said McCarthy.

McCarthy explained that he was very encouraged with what he learned from the cadre and commanders of Cadet Command when he sat down with them on the morning of July 3.

"A lot of the adjustments that [Gen. Stephen] Townsend and [Maj. Gen. John] Evans have put in place to adjust the summer camp experience toward more basic rifle marksmanship and more repetitions out on the range not only gives the cadets greater familiarity on the weapons systems but also confidence in themselves," said McCarthy.

McCarthy said Fort Knox is a strategic linchpin to the Army's future because of its training capabilities.

"This is a critical variable in the accessions process for officers, who are the ones leading our Army," said McCarthy. "Fort Knox is essential. It has had a very wonderful history in how we trained our men and women, and that will continue."

As a group of cadets marched off the firing line, McCarthy prepared to leave the range.

"This is the best, most fun thing I get to do is come out here and engage with young cadets," he said. "Their morale is high. It's a hot morning, and they've come out here to do what they need to do -- that's encouraging."