On Nov. 15th, Mark Esper was confirmed as Secretary of the Army by a seven vote margin in the U.S. Senate. He was President Trump’s third pick for the position after Vincent Viola, founder of Virtu Financial, and Sen. Mark Green were forced to drop out of the confirmation process before hearings began.
Esper rounds out the final Trump service secretary to be approved by the Senate. Heather Wilson was confirmed as Air Force secretary in May while Richard Spencer was confirmed as Navy secretary in August.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ go-to man for the U.S. Army has a long Army history that includes active and reserve duty as well as time in the National Guard.
The ‘Left Hook’ of the First Gulf War
Esper’s military career began after he graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1986. He made the West Point Dean’s List and received the MacArthur Award for Leadership. From there, he became an infantry officer in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
In 1990, he deployed in support of the first Gulf War, where his battalion, the 3-187th Infantry Battalion, played a vital role in General Norman Schwarzkopf’s “Left Hook.” The idea was to avoid the heavily fortified Iraq-Kuwait border by coming in through Saudi Arabia to cut off the Iraqi Army and Republican Guard divisions still stationed in Kuwait. For his actions in Iraq, Esper received the Bronze Star and his Combat Infantryman Badge, among other awards.
Esper then commanded an airborne unit in Europe before becoming an Army Fellow at the Pentagon. In 1995, he graduated from Harvard with a Master’s degree in Public Administration.
Time in Washington
Esper was promoted to lieutenant colonel before retiring through service in the National Guard and Army Reserve. After two years as the Chief of Staff at The Heritage Foundation, Esper became a senior staffer for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.
Between 2002 and 2004, Esper was the Bush Administration’s deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for negotiations policy, nonproliferation, and international agreements, where he was awarded the Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Medal for his work. From 2004 and 2006, he was the Director for National Security Affairs for the U.S. Senate.
He left the military side of Washington to be the executive vice-president of the non-profit trade group Aerospace Industries Association in 2006, but left to be Senator Fred Thompson’s national policy director during his short 2008 presidential campaign.
Time at Raytheon
Esper went on to become the next vice-president of government relations at Raytheon. Raytheon is the world’s largest manufacturer of guided missiles and currently stands as the third largest defense contractor by defense revenue, earning $22.3 billion — with 93 percent coming from government contracts.
In 2016, he earned $1.52 million at Raytheon, which includes his salary and bonuses, but does not include his stock options and deferred compensation at the company, worth anywhere from $1.5 million to as much as $6 million.
Esper agreed before his confirmation that he would “recuse himself from matters related to Raytheon that may come before him” but the “deferred compensation” after five years mentioned above from Raytheon may still be a conflict of interest.
According to Breaking Defense, he will most likely become “a soft-spoken wingman to the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley.” Esper’s entire career has been defined by quiet and low-key performance so it would make sense that he would continue to serve as a diligent mediator between Defense Secretary Mattis and General Milley.
In his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Commitee on Nov. 2, Esper reiterated Milley’s readiness first policy. “My first priority will be readiness — ensuring the total Army is prepared to fight across the full spectrum of conflict. With the Army engaged in over 140 countries around the world, to include combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, training rotations to Europe to deter Russia, and forward deployed units in the Pacific defending against a bellicose North Korea, readiness must be our top priority.”