Esper Confirmed as Defense Secretary
Army Secretary Mark T. Esper has been confirmed to be the next defense secretary, giving the Pentagon its first Senate-confirmed leader since Jan. 1 and leading off a series of major changes in Army leadership.
The Senate on July 23 voted 90-8 to confirm Esper for the top Pentagon job. Senators are expected to soon also vote on Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where, if confirmed, he will succeed Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who is completing his four-year term as the nation’s top military officer.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate majority leader, praised Esper’s confirmation, calling him “beyond qualified” with a record of public service that is “beyond impressive.”
“The world is full of serious threats to America, to our allies, and to our interests,” he said. “Not the least among them, obviously, is Iran's insistence on continuing to ratchet up tensions in the Middle East. Having a Senate-confirmed secretary of defense, especially one of this quality, could not have come a moment too soon.”
Esper said during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee that his “broad and diverse experience” has prepared him to be secretary of defense.
He served 21 years as a soldier, worked in staff jobs for Congress and the Defense Department, spent time in the private sector working on defense and foreign policy issues, and served almost two years as Army secretary.
Esper told the committee his priorities as defense secretary won’t be that different from his priorities leading the Army. “We will continue to build a more lethal force by increasing readiness and modernizing for the future,” Esper said. “The goal is to deter war, and this can only be done with a strong, modern and ready military that has overmatch in all domains. Our adversaries must see diplomacy as their best option because war with the United States will force them to bear enormous costs.”
“Secretary Esper’s confirmation to serve as secretary of defense and the announcement by the president and congressional leaders about a two-year budget agreement both bring needed stability and predictability to the armed forces,” said retired Gen. Carter F. Ham, president and CEO of the Association of the U.S. Army. “Obviously, much work remains to be done,” Ham added, including Senate confirmation for Milley and the expected nominations for Army secretary and undersecretary, “but today’s news is most welcome and, I hope, harkens a period of progress for America’s Army.”
As Esper moves up to lead the Defense Department, the Army will see several changes in its top leadership ranks.
President Donald Trump has announced his plans to nominate Army Undersecretary Ryan D. McCarthy to become secretary, although a formal nomination is still pending. Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville will succeed Milley, while Lt. Gen. Joseph Martin, currently director of the Army staff, will succeed McConville as vice chief.
The Army also will receive a new senior enlisted soldier—Command Sgt. Maj. Michael A. Grinston has been selected to succeed Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey.