WASHINGTON -- A dreary, overcast day at Nationals ballpark could not dampen the spirits of Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper as he walked onto the field Sunday afternoon.
The Nationals celebrated the service's 243rd birthday during a pivotal time in the Army. With Soldiers and families in attendance, Esper praised service members for their perseverance.
"On this birthday I'd like to thank everyone -- whether you're wearing a uniform or married to someone who's in uniform, or the son or daughter of someone who's in uniform," Esper said. "Thank them for their service."
Esper threw out the ceremonial first pitch to begin festivities. Members of the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) and honor guard also took to the field as members of the Army Chorus performed the national anthem. About 120 Soldiers were invited onto the field.
As the Army looks to modernize its force, Esper said service members will be called on even more, as will their families. Esper said modernization ranked among his top priorities after taking office.
"I'm going to ask them to be flexible -- be patient," Esper said. "We're going to transition here. Not just in terms of our outlook and in how we will fight or prepare to fight ... against near peer threats but also in how we transition a whole generation's worth of equipment and tools and weapons."
Esper expressed his gratitude for the military spouses and children in attendance and lauded their support and patience, as the Army looks to become more deployment ready. About 200 military family members attended the event, including Esper's wife, Leah, and children, Jack, Luke and Kate.
"Being a military family member is the toughest job in the Army," Esper said. "Being a spouse is a very demanding job. But it's a family business in many ways. We all signed up for this when we joined so it's very important that we recognize families. We do everything we can to give them the quality of life they deserve."
The Nationals honored military children and spouses in a pregame ceremony.
Among the children was 11-year old Savannah Moody, who attends Fort Belvoir Upper Elementary School. Moody and her mother, Sgt. 1st Class Stephanie Piekarczyk, a supply specialist at Belvoir, attended their first baseball game together, watching the Nationals fall to the San Francisco Giants 2-0 Sunday.
Nationals' pitcher Max Scherzer had another stellar game throwing a one-hitter, but Washington struggled to provide run support. The one hit Scherzer gave up was a two-run homer as Washington fell to 36-27 on the season.
Piekarczyk said her daughter has provided her steady support throughout her military career. She had to endure separation from her mother when Piekarczyk had to serve as an Army instructor.
"Her whole life has revolved around me being in the military," Piekarczyk said. "She's really had to move around a lot and adapt and overcome. She's been a support to me."
Piekarczyk said she was impressed by Savannah's resilience, considering the burden placed on her by being the daughter of a full-time Soldier.
"We've moved pretty much every two years and just that in and of itself, going to different schools, different military installations, it's challenging for her," Piekarczyk said.
During the game, the Washington ball club also recognized the work of Lt. Gen. Bruce Crawford for his work as the Army's chief information officer. Crawford leads the Army's information technology network and manages the Army's $10 billion IT investments.
Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley delivered the game ball to Nationals catcher Pedro Severino and met with Nationals manager Dave Martinez before the game. Esper said it was important to recognize the efforts of Soldiers at widely-attended and broadcast events to continue to foster goodwill with the American public.
Esper said their partnership with the Nationals team has helped foster good relations with the public.
"It's good that we continue to connect with the broader American people," Esper said. "We are America's Army and it's important they understand who we are and what we do and the importance of serving. And the fact is we serve them and the constitution and all the ideals that America stands for."