WASHINGTON -- A day after the 18th anniversary of 9/11, Acting Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy reflected on that fateful morning during his confirmation Senate hearing for the Army's highest civilian position.

A former Army Ranger, McCarthy had served four years in the 75th Ranger Regiment. After the 9/11 attacks, McCarthy realized his mission bore greater significance and he soon deployed to Afghanistan.

"That day fundamentally changed my life and has brought me to this moment," McCarthy said before a panel of U.S. senators at the Dirksen Senate Building Thursday morning, during the hearing that will help decide if he becomes the 24th secretary of the Army. "Troops deployed in combat operations will remain my primary focus."

When questioned on whether the U.S. should withdraw troops from the same Middle East nation he deployed to two decades ago, McCarthy reiterated his support for the National Defense Strategy, originally pushed by former Defense Secretary James Mattis. McCarthy said to keep stability in Afghanistan, U.S. forces must continue to remain to provide an advise-and-assist capability as well as monitor terrorist organizations in the nearby Hindu Kush.

McCarthy added that the Army must continue to care for Soldiers deployed in combat operations as well as Soldiers who serve in different capacities worldwide. The acting Army secretary said the service will keep working towards improving its recruiting, quality of life and the Army's lofty modernization goals. To achieve those goals, McCarthy said, the Army must prioritize people first, echoing the sentiments of the Army's Chief of Staff, Gen. James C. McConville.

"If confirmed as secretary of the Army, I will continue to champion the Army's strategy and vision with an emphasis on readiness, modernization and reform," McCarthy said. "It is only through the care of our people that these priorities will be achieved."

McCarthy addressed some of the most poignant issues facing the service today, including improving the quality of installation housing throughout the Army and pledging to improve healthcare throughout the service, especially in remote installations where care can be challenging. The Army's inspector general recently revealed its findings during an investigation initiated by former Army Secretary Mark Esper. "We're taking the appropriate actions now. We've baselined ourselves against the problem," McCarthy said. "Quite frankly it's not just the Army -- the entire (Defense) Department. We weren't managing the (housing) contractor as well as we should have, with the level of diligence we should have."

He promised to address the recruiting shortfall last year, when the Army fell short of its recruiting goals by about 6,500 recruits. McCarthy sat down with former Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, (confirmed the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and Esper to re-evaluate the Army's recruiting strategy. They started by focusing on 22 cities and traveled to several of those locations, meeting with mayors, school superintendents and other civic leaders to reach targeted demographics.

"We had to make a change," McCarthy said, adding that he is encouraged by the Army meeting 100 percent of its retention goals, posting a record reenlistment rate in fiscal year 2018.

McCarthy sternly denounced sexual assault and sexual harassment, promising to help eradicate the problem within the Army's ranks. He also promised to address the rise in military suicides.

If confirmed as secretary, the Illinois native would succeed Esper, who the president appointed as the next secretary of defense last month. McCarthy, who has already served two stints as the acting secretary of the Army, spearheaded the Army's massive modernization efforts as the service's undersecretary, helping establish Army Futures Command, headquartered in Austin, Texas.

McCarthy's nomination along with McConville moving from the vice chief into the chief of staff role assures the Army some continuity during its modernization efforts.

McCarthy has been credited with improving the Army's acquisition process by establishing eight cross-functional teams to achieve its six modernization priorities of long-range precision fires, future vertical lift, next-generation combat vehicles, air and missile defense, Soldier lethality and the Army's network. He pledged to continue the Army's massive undertaking to modernize its forces.

"Significant work remains to solidify the modernization enterprise and finish what we collectively started," McCarthy said.

McCarthy said that he also plans to address Soldier fitness and the Army's 17 percent obesity rate. The service has already revamped its fitness standards, and will soon launch its Army Combat Fitness Test this fall.

McCarthy's previous government experience includes serving as a special adviser under former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

He also served as a vice president in sustainment and customer solutions for Lockheed Martin, as well as taking responsibility of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

McCarthy has a bachelor's degree in history and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Maryland.