Mark Esper, who according to news reports will be President Trump’s nominee for defense secretary, was in Fort Worth in December, and he talked about the prospect of serving in the cabinet.
At the time, Esper was secretary of the Army, and he was more concerned with watching the upcoming Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl football game. (Army destroyed the University of Houston, 70-14.)
He also was in Dallas-Fort Worth to stress the importance of the Army beefing up its recruiting numbers, in the event the United States ever had to fight a “high intensity” war against an enemy with vast military resources such as China or Russia. He was on a mission to bring in more fresh soldiers from the region’s high schools.
But on the prospect of getting appointed defense secretary, Esper’s initial response was a bit coy. He declined to discuss whether he would be interested in the job.
“I’m very happy and privileged to be secretary of the Army,” Esper said during an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram at a downtown hotel. “We have a great leadership team in DC. We think we are making great strides in improving the readiness and lethality of the U.S. Army, and I could not be happier.”
Shanahan withdraws nomination
Ultimately, after James Mattis resigned as secretary of defense in December, Trump selected Patrick Shanahan as his nominee. However, Shanahan was never confirmed by the Senate, and he withdrew Tuesday after reports surfaced about his 2011 divorce.
This week, that move put Esper back in play as a nominee for the position. He already is serving as acting defense secretary, and took part Thursday in White House talks about a response to Iran’s downing of a drone.
Esper’s nomination will come as no surprise to Fort Worth leaders who know him.
“With his senior position in the Department of Defense, I expect he would be among the candidates on the president’s list,” Pete Geren of Fort Worth, himself a former Army secretary (and former member of Congress), said in December. Geren has known Esper for years.
Army needs 500,000 soldiers
Esper, a 1986 West Point graduate, also said he is working hard to improve Army recruiting in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. It’s one of 22 metropolitan areas in the United States where Esper believes the Army can find the tech-savvy young people needed to ensure the military is the best in the world in the areas of electronic and cyber warfare.
“After 17 and 18 years of low-intensity conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the national defense strategy now tells us we need to be prepared to fight high-intensity conflicts against strategic competitors such as Russia and China,” he said. “To fight a conflict like that, I need a bigger Army. I need to put capabilities back into the Army that in some cases we haven’t had in many years.”
He said one main goal is to increase the active duty force, which currently is about 476,000 men and women, to 500,000 or more.
Esper served in the 1990-1991 Gulf War with the 101st Airborne Division and commanded an airborne rifle company in Europe and had a lengthy career at the Pentagon.
He also was a vice president for government relations at defense contractor Raytheon Company.