Here's New Acting SecDef Mark Esper's First Message to the Troops

Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper arrives at the Pentagon for his first day as acting defense chief, Washington, D.C., June 24, 2019. (DoD/Lisa Ferdinando)
Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper arrives at the Pentagon for his first day as acting defense chief, Washington, D.C., June 24, 2019. (DoD/Lisa Ferdinando)

In his first hours on the job, new Acting Defense Secretary has published a message to the Defense Department highlighting his priorities and reaffirming a path forward. Despite turnover, he exhorted his people to stay focused on the mission.

Esper, who assumed the position at 12:01 a.m. Monday, said the National Defense Strategy would continue to be "our guiding document," in "everything we do." The message outlines his three objectives to maintain the Pentagon's competitive edge.

"We will continue to expand the competitive space through three mutually reinforcing lines of effort," Esper said in the memo.

Those are: build a more lethal force; strengthen alliances and attract new partners; and reform the department for greater performance and affordability.

Esper, who served 10 years as an Army infantry officer and later became vice president of government relations at defense contractor Raytheon, has served as Army secretary since late 2017. A Gulf War veteran, his awards include the Legion of Merit and Bronze Star.

Related: Trump to Nominate Mark Esper as SecDef, Ryan McCarthy as Army Secretary

Esper said he also understands the sacrifices troops and their families make by choosing to serve.

"This is why I am committed to taking care of families and ensuring they have the resources they need to thrive," he said in his message.

In February, Esper, alongside Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey, announced that the service would begin stepping up inspections of base housing and hold town halls for soldiers and families living in more than 87,000 homes plagued by unlivable conditions. The three officials met the same month with the heads of seven companies to discuss how to solve problems, including peeling paint and mold, faulty wiring, rodent and bug infestations and more.

Esper also toured housing at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to speak with families on March 1.

"I'd said the problems are unconscionable. There's no reason our soldiers and their families should live in the conditions they've lived in," Esper said at a news conference that followed a town hall meeting at the base.

Last week, Trump announced his intent to nominate Esper for secretary of defense. The news came after Trump announced that Shanahan would not continue to pursue the nomination, following reports of an FBI investigation into two domestic incidents in 2010 and 2011.

The Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 prohibits a secretary nominee from serving in the role in an acting capacity. The position of acting defense secretary would default to Navy Secretary Richard Spencer until Esper is confirmed unless Trump chooses another individual to fill the role.

Esper's first assignment will be to represent the U.S. at the NATO Defense Ministerial in Brussels, Belgium beginning Tuesday.

In his memo, Esper said he values accountability. He stressed a greater commitment, especially from leaders, to keeping the "character and integrity of the Armed Forces that the American people admire."

"Stay focused on your mission, remain steadfast in your pursuit of excellence and always do the right thing," he said. "Together we will remain the most ready and capable military force in the world, which is what our Nation expects and deserves."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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