Mark Esper was recently confirmed as the new Secretary of Defense. His swearing in marked the end of seven months in which the department went without a confirmed leader, the longest such period in its history.

A veteran of the Army and the defense industry, Esper said he aims to tackle leadership vacancies within the department as America and the global community confront various modern threats.

West Point grad, Screaming Eagle

Esper was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, in 1964, and was a 1986 graduate of the United States Military Academy, receiving a commission in the infantry. According to his DoD biography, Esper completed Ranger and Pathfinder training, serving in the 1990-91 Gulf War with the 101st Airborne Division, also known as the "Screaming Eagles." Esper also commanded a Rifle Company in the 3-325 Airborne Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy, before retiring from the Army in 2007 after 10 years on active duty and 11 years in the National Guard and Army Reserve. He has been awarded the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, as well as military honors including the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, the Kuwait Liberation Medal, Kuwait Liberation Medal-Saudi Arabia, and the Combat Infantryman Badge. Esper holds both a Master of Public Administration and a doctorate in Public Policy.

In the private sector, Esper most notably worked as Vice President for Government Relations at Raytheon. He also spent time at The Heritage Foundation think tank, the Aerospace Industries Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Intellectual Property Center. Esper also worked for several politicians, becoming an advisor to former Senators Chuck Hagel, Bill Frist and Fred Thompson. In 2017 he was confirmed as Secretary of the Army. 

"The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."
"The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."

27th Secretary of Defense

Despite some pointed questions from the Senate about his previous lobbying for Raytheon, one of the largest defense contractors, Esper sailed through confirmation on a bipartisan vote of 90-8. That ended the seven-month, record-breaking stretch of DoD operating without a confirmed leader. The lull was created when Jim Mattis stepped down amid apparent policy differences with the Trump Administration. Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, served as acting secretary but withdrew from the position after complications in his personal life emerged.

Esper succeeded Shanahan in an acting capacity, but as secretary has pledged to maintain U.S. alliances, modernize the military and reform the Pentagon. He also has vowed to continue on the National Defense Strategy path, a strategic plan crafted by Mattis that focuses on long-term competition with China and Russia.

The margin of the vote was notable in for a Trump-appointed official, and was largely seen as reflective of Capitol Hill's desire to return normalcy to DoD with a permanent leader.

"We're in a very great position … in that we have someone that is enthusiastically supported by Republicans, by Democrats, and he is obviously the right person who has the trust of our president, he has the trust of our military, the trust of Congress and the country to keep our nation safe," Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said to the Senate in support of Esper, according to Stars and Stripes.

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Majority Leader, also added praise for the pedigree Esper built with the Army in support of his confirmation as secretary, concluding that his leadership skills would be welcomed at the Pentagon.

"His record of public service is beyond impressive," McConnell said, according to Defense News. "His commitment to serving our service members is beyond obvious. And the need for a Senate-confirmed Secretary of Defense is beyond urgent."