Mark Esper, President Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, spent time in Alaska last summer at the invitation of Sen. Dan Sullivan, who took Esper, the Secretary of the Army, on a familiarization tour of three bases.
Esper and Sullivan visited military personnel at JBER, Fort Greeley, and Fort Wainwright. During a press briefing, Esper spoke to the importance of Alaska’s strategic geography, naming Russia and China as “near peer threats.”
“What I like to say, our Army, our strategic location, our training, it sells itself,” Sullivan said last August, stressing the importance of getting military leaders to visit Alaska.
Last summer, Sullivan also hosted Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl Schultz, and U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.
Esper will take over as Acting Secretary of Defense on Monday. Other changes include David Norquist as Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Ryan McCarthy as Secretary of the Army. Norquist has been comptroller at the Pentagon, and McCarthy is the undersecretary of the Army.
After graduating from high school in Uniontown, Penn., Esper earned his bachelor of science in engineering at the United States Military Academy — West Point. He received a master’s degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard in 1995 and a PhD in political science from George Washington University.
Esper was an infantry officer with the 101st Airborne Division during the 1990-91 Gulf War, and was awarded a Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, and other service medals. He led an Airborne Rifle Company in Europe and served as an Army fellow at the Pentagon. After 10 years of active duty he transferred to the Army National Guard and later the Army Reserve.
Esper was chief of staff at the Heritage Foundation and staffed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. He was also a senior policy advisor and legislative director for Sen. Chuck Hagel and was deputy assistant secretary of defense for negotiations policy in the George W. Bush Administration.
In the private sector, he lobbied for Raytheon and worked for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Aerospace Industries Association.
Since former Defense Secretary Gen. Jim Mattis exited on Jan. 1, the position has been filled in an acting capacity by Patrick Shanahan, who withdrew from consideration last week under less-than-ideal circumstances. Shanahan had gone through an ugly divorce during which his now ex-wife accused him of punching her in 2010. He denied the accusation and said that she, in fact, had thrown the punch during a domestic dispute.