Mark Esper

Mark Thomas Esper (born April 26, 1964)[1][2] is the 27th and current United States secretary of defense. He previously served as acting secretary of defense and was the 23rd United States secretary of the Army from 2017 to 2019.

Mark Esper
27th United States Secretary of Defense
Assumed office
July 23, 2019
PresidentDonald Trump
DeputyRichard V. Spencer (acting)
David Norquist
Preceded byJim Mattis
In office
Acting: June 24, 2019  July 15, 2019
PresidentDonald Trump
DeputyDavid Norquist (acting)
Preceded byPatrick M. Shanahan (acting)
Succeeded byRichard V. Spencer (acting)
23rd United States Secretary of the Army
In office
November 20, 2017  July 23, 2019*
PresidentDonald Trump
DeputyRyan McCarthy
Preceded byRyan McCarthy (acting)
Succeeded byRyan McCarthy
Personal details
Mark Thomas Esper

(1964-04-26) April 26, 1964
Uniontown, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Leah Lacy (m. 1989)
EducationUnited States Military Academy (BS)
Harvard University (MPA)
George Washington University (PhD)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1986–2007
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Unit 101st Airborne Division
Virginia Army National Guard
D.C. Army National Guard
 U.S. Army Reserve
Battles/warsGulf War
Awards Legion of Merit
Bronze Star
Combat Infantryman Badge
DoD Medal for Distinguished Public Service
*McCarthy served in an acting capacity from June 24, 2019 – July 15, 2019, while Esper served as acting secretary of defense.

Before joining the Department of Defense, Esper was vice president of government relations at Raytheon, a major U.S. defense contractor.[3] During his time at Raytheon, Esper was recognized as a top corporate lobbyist by The Hill in 2015[4] and 2016.[5]

President Donald Trump announced on June 18, 2019, that Esper would become acting secretary of defense, succeeding acting secretary Patrick Shanahan.[6] Before Shanahan withdrew his name from consideration for the position, Esper had been considered a leading candidate for the nomination, had the Senate declined to confirm Shanahan.[7] Esper assumed the office of acting secretary on June 24, and was confirmed as 27th secretary of defense by the United States Senate with a vote of 90–8 on July 23, 2019.[8]

Early life and education

Esper was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, the son of Pauline "Polly" (Reagan) and Thomas Joseph Esper.[9] His father was a member of the Maronite Church.[10] Esper graduated from Laurel Highlands High School outside Uniontown, Pennsylvania, in 1982.[11] He received his Bachelor of Science in engineering from the United States Military Academy in 1986. Esper was a dean's list student at West Point and received the Douglas MacArthur Award for Leadership.[12] He received a master's degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard in 1995 and a doctorate in public policy from George Washington University in 2008.[13]


Esper served as an infantry officer with the 101st Airborne Division and deployed with the "Screaming Eagles" for the 1990–91 Gulf War. His battalion was part of the famous "left hook" that led to the defeat of the Iraqi Army . For his actions, Esper was awarded a Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman's Badge, and various service medals.[12] He later led an Airborne Rifle Company in Europe and served as an Army fellow at the Pentagon.[11] Esper served on active duty for more than ten years before moving to the Army National Guard and later the Army Reserve, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel.[14] Esper is a recipient of the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service. Among his military awards and decorations are the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, the Kuwait Liberation Medal, Kuwait Liberation Medal – Saudi Arabia, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.[15]

Esper was chief of staff at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, from 1996 to 1998.[16] From 1998 to 2002, Esper served as a senior professional staffer for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. He was also a senior policy advisor and legislative director for U.S. senator Chuck Hagel.[3] He was policy director for the House Armed Services Committee from 2001 to 2002. From 2002 to 2004, Esper served in the George W. Bush administration as deputy assistant secretary of defense for negotiations policy, where he was responsible for a broad range of nonproliferation, arms control, and international security issues. He was director for national security affairs for the U.S. Senate under Senate majority leader Bill Frist from 2004 to 2006.

Esper was executive vice president at the Aerospace Industries Association in 2006 and 2007. From September 2007 to February 2008, Esper served as national policy director to Senator Fred Thompson in his 2008 presidential campaign. From 2008 to 2010, Esper served as executive vice president of the Global Intellectual Property Center and vice president for Europe and Eurasia at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He was hired as vice president of government relations at defense contractor Raytheon in July 2010. Esper was recognized as a top corporate lobbyist by The Hill in 2015[4] and 2016.[5]

President Trump announced his intention to nominate Esper as United States Secretary of the Army on June 19, 2017.[17] He was Trump's third nominee for the position, following the withdrawals of Vincent Viola and Mark E. Green.[18] He was confirmed to this post by an 89–6 vote of the U.S. Senate on November 15, 2017[19] and sworn in on November 20, 2017.

Secretary of Defense

Temporary appointment and nomination

President Trump announced his appointment of Esper as acting United States secretary of defense on June 18, 2019, after Acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan decided to withdraw his nomination.[6] Four days later, it was announced that Trump would nominate Esper to serve as secretary of defense in a permanent capacity.[20] On July 15, 2019, the White House formally sent his nomination to the Senate.[21][22] Following his formal nomination to the Senate by President Trump, Esper was replaced as Acting Defense Secretary by Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer, as the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 prevented Esper from serving as acting secretary while his nomination was formally under consideration. During that period, Esper reverted to his position as Secretary of the Army.[23] The Senate Committee on Armed Services scheduled a hearing on the nomination for the next day.[24] On July 22, 2019, the Senate voted 85–6 to invoke cloture on his nomination.[25] On July 23, 2019, his nomination was confirmed by a vote of 90–8.[26]

Political positions

On February 15, 2018, then-Army Secretary Esper was asked by reporters whether soldiers had concerns about serving beside openly transgender individuals. He replied that "It really hasn't come up."[27] After he was nominated to become Secretary of Defense, he said that being "transgender" is not an issue with him, stating that he has met several transgender servicemembers and was impressed with many of them. He supports Directive-type Memorandum-19-004, claiming it is not a "blanket ban" on transgender military service and said that he believes anyone who can meet the military standards without "special accommodations" and is worldwide deployable should be able to serve, including transgender individuals as long as they can adhere to cisgendered standards associated with their biological sex. He said people in the military with gender dysphoria would have their condition assessed and "in many cases", be offered waivers that would allow them to serve. He cited the United States Department of Defense's 2018 Report and Recommendations on Military Service by Transgender Persons, which claims that persons who have a history of gender dysphoria, who have undergone medical treatments for gender transition, or who are unable or unwilling to meet the military's standards associated with their biological sex, could hurt military readiness and effectiveness and should be evaluated to see whether they should be retained or expelled from service.[28][29]


Esper has said that his operating positions as Secretary of Defense would be apolitical, in keeping with the National Defense Strategy formulated in 2018 by his predecessor Jim Mattis.[30]

On November 24, 2019, during a dispute regarding whether Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher would be stripped of his Trident pin, Esper fired the United States Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer. The Department of Defense attributed the firing to Spencer privately proposing to the White House (without informing Esper, and contrary to Spencer's public position) an arrangement to let Gallagher retire while keeping his Trident pin. On November 25, Esper stated that Trump had ordered him to stop the Navy from conducting a peer review regarding Gallagher's right to wear the pin. Esper said he previously supported the peer review, but followed Trump's order.[31] Meanwhile, President Donald Trump cited the Gallagher case as the primary reason for Esper's firing of Spencer, while offering a second reason: that "large cost overruns" had not been mitigated.[32]


  1. Zajac, Frances Borsodi (August 17, 2017). "Trump nominating Uniontown native for Army secretary | Local News". The Herald-Standard. Retrieved December 18, 2017 via
  2. "Secretary of the Army: Who Is Mark Esper?". AllGov.
  3. "Raytheon Names Mark T. Esper Vice President of Government Relations". Raytheon: Investors: Investor Relations. Raytheon. July 16, 2010. Retrieved September 25, 2017 via
  4. Dickson, Rebecca (October 29, 2015). "Top Lobbyists 2015: Corporate". The Hill.
  5. Dickson, Rebecca (October 26, 2016). "Top Lobbyists 2016: Corporate". The Hill.
  6. @realDonaldTrump (June 18, 2019). "....I thank Pat for his outstanding service and will be naming Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, to be the new Acting Secretary of Defense. I know Mark, and have no doubt he will do a fantastic job!" (Tweet) via Twitter.
  7. "Shanahan withdraws from consideration to be U.S. defense secretary". Reuters. June 18, 2019. Retrieved June 18, 2019.
  8. Youssef, Nancy A. (July 23, 2019). "Mark Esper Sworn In as Defense Secretary". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
  9. Zajac, Frances Borsodi (March 8, 2018). "Uniontown native serves country as Secretary of the Army". The Herald-Standard.
  10. "Thomas Joseph Esper". The Herald-Standard. December 5, 2014.
  11. Basinger, Rachel (August 31, 2013). "Laurel Highlands to honor Hall of Fame inductees". TribLIVE.
  12. Ekas, Cindy (September 7, 2017). "Laurel Highlands lauds alumni's achievements". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Trib Total Media. Retrieved September 25, 2017 via Trib LIVE (
  13. Hubler, David (July 16, 2010). "Raytheon adds defense expert to lead government relations unit". Washington Technology.
  14. Shane III, Leo (July 19, 2017). "Trump to nominate Raytheon VP, Gulf War vet as next Army secretary". Military Times.
  15. ARMY, US (June 24, 2019). "Secretery of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper". US ARMY.
  16. "U.S. Chamber Bolsters Its Europe-Eurasia Team". U.S. Chamber of Commerce. November 20, 2008.
  17. McIntyre, Jamie (July 19, 2017). "Exclusive: Trump to nominate Mark Esper as Army secretary". Washington Examiner.
  18. Gibbons-Neff, Thomas; Jaffe, Greg (July 19, 2017). "Trump to nominate Raytheon lobbyist for next Army secretary". Washington Post.
  19. "PN811 – Mark T. Esper – Department of Defense". U.S. Congress. November 15, 2017. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  20. Cooper, Helene (June 21, 2019). "Trump Nominates Mark Esper as Next Defense Secretary". The New York Times. Retrieved June 22, 2019.
  21. "One Nomination Sent to the Senate". The White House.
  22. "PN934 — Mark T. Esper — Department of Defense". U.S. Congress. July 15, 2019. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  23. Jim Garamone (July 15, 2019). "Esper nominated as Defense Secretary, Spencer now Acting Secretary". United States Department of Defense. Retrieved July 24, 2019.
  24. "Nomination -- Esper". U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  25. "U.S. Senate: U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 116th Congress - 1st Session".
  26. "U.S. Senate: U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 116th Congress - 1st Session".
  27. Mclaughlin, Elizabeth. "Soldiers not asking about transgender policy: Army secretary". ABC News.
  28. "CNN'S Amanpour Transcripts". June 6, 2019. Retrieved August 23, 2019.
  29. "Senate Armed Services Committee Advance Policy Questions for Dr. Mark T.Esper Nominee for Appointment to be Secretary of Defense" (PDF).
  30. Ryan, Missy; Lamothe, Dan (August 6, 2019). "Defense secretary Mark Esper wants to deliver on the goal of outpacing China". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 23, 2019.
  31. Burns, Robert. "Esper says Trump ordered him to stop SEAL review board". Associated Press. Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  32. McLaughlin, Elizabeth; Martinez, Luis. "Pentagon chief Mark Esper fires Navy Secretary Richard Spencer over handling of Navy SEAL case". ABC News. Retrieved November 25, 2019.
Political offices
Preceded by
Ryan McCarthy
United States Secretary of the Army
Succeeded by
Ryan McCarthy
Preceded by
Patrick M. Shanahan
United States Secretary of Defense

Succeeded by
Richard V. Spencer
Preceded by
Jim Mattis
United States Secretary of Defense
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Steve Mnuchin
as Secretary of the Treasury
Order of Precedence of the United States
as Secretary of Defense
Succeeded by
William Barr
as Attorney General
U.S. presidential line of succession
Preceded by
Steve Mnuchin
as Secretary of the Treasury
6th in line
as Secretary of Defense
Succeeded by
William Barr
as Attorney General
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