By Thomas Brading, Army News ServiceJuly 25, 2019
WASHINGTON -- Being secretary of the Army was "a dream of a lifetime," said Mark T. Esper, during his farewell address given a day after swearing in as defense secretary.
To him, the event was a chance to say thank you to everyone he's worked with and who "brought the Army to the next level," adding today is not about "me," it's about "we."
The ceremony, hosted by Gen. Mark A. Milley, Army chief of staff, recognized Esper for his distinguished service as the 23rd secretary of the Army, a role he held since November 2017.
Esper was "the right leader at the right time for our nation," Milley said. "Everyone across the entire Army wishes you the best.
"Our Army is more ready and more lethal than it's been in many years," he added, and because of Esper, the Army will "maintain dominance well into the future."
During the event, Esper was awarded the U.S. Army Leadership Award by Ryan McCarthy, the acting secretary of the Army. In addition, Esper received the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service (Bronze Palm) with a citation by Richard Spencer, who at the time of the citation, was acting secretary of defense.
According to Spencer's citation, Esper exhibited "outstanding leadership" in organizing, training, and equipping the Army and also prioritized taking care of people by advocating for servicemembers to the American public, foreign dignitaries, and government officials.
Esper agreed that taking care of people was his top priority.
While meeting Soldiers, Esper said he was "constantly struck by the expertise and dedication by those who take up the profession of arms." And with every policy written under his watch, he said he always thought of the Soldiers, families and civilians on the receiving end.
Under Esper's leadership, he led the Army's reform initiatives with "extraordinary business acumen," Spencer wrote. For example, he established the Army Modernization Strategy by "collaborating with private sector innovators and experts to form and strengthen long-term, strategic partnerships."
Due to this, Army leaders accomplished many of their goals, such as standing up Army Futures Command -- a new command Esper called "a game-changer." The command oversees Army modernization through six priorities: long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicles, future vertical lift, network, air and missile defense, and Soldier lethality.
Esper, along with top-tier Army leaders, reallocated roughly $25 billion toward modernization efforts through a "night court" process. In it, leaders spent up to 60 hours after duty hours combing through Army programs and weighed them against modernization priorities.
As defense secretary, Esper's strategy includes upgrading weapons systems, strengthening alliances and improving performance and holding accountability at the Pentagon, similar to his leadership in the Army.
Esper's wife, Leah, was also recognized at the ceremony and received the Distinguished Public Service Medal for her public service in support of the Army.
"Mrs. Esper traveled frequently with her husband to meet with Army families and spouses in the United States and abroad," Milley said. She served as "an invaluable asset on a broad range of family issues facing the Army."
He added that her "compassion, tireless dedication, and sincere concern" for all members of the Army -- Soldiers, civilians, and families -- have "enhanced all the lives she touched."
As the 27th secretary of defense, Esper now leads the entire military, which has more than 1.3 million active-duty troops. He joked that he'll "be down the hall" from the Army and will check in from time to time.
Following an 80-9 vote in the Senate, President Donald Trump formally appointed Esper into his new role during a swearing-in ceremony Tuesday night in the Oval Office.
During Esper's address, he used the opportunity to thank his colleagues, from top-level Army leadership down to every Soldier, civilian, and family member across the globe.
"Thank you for your service, sacrifice and your calling to something greater than yourself," he said.