This is Mark Esper, the Gulf War Army veteran and defence lobbyist who Trump has tapped to lead the Pentagon

Getty ImagesMark T. Esper
  • Mark T. Esper became the acting secretary of defence on Monday after former acting Secretary of Defence Patrick M. Shanahan stepped down from his post, citing family concerns.
  • Esper is the former secretary of the Army, and was a lobbyist for the weapons manufacturer Raytheon.
  • Esper attended West Point with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
  • Visit Business Insider’s hompage for more stories.

Who is Mark Esper, the man President Donald Trump has tapped to lead the Pentagon after retired Gen. James Mattis’ departure in December and Patrick Shanahan’s abrupt resignation last week?

Esper comes to the position after the failed nomination of Patrick Shanahan, who Trump had picked to take over after Mattis resigned over Trump’s announcement that he would pull troops from Syria. Shanahan withdrew his nomination last week after his confirmation hearing was stalled for months, and in the midst of a potential conflict with Iran.

Esper is the second acting defence secretary in six months, and will leave his post as secretary of the Army. Trump has nominated Ryan McCarthy, the under secretary of the Army to take Esper’s place in the Army’s top post, according to The New York Times.


Esper is a graduate of West Point, Harvard University, and George Washington University.

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Fincham/US ArmyNewly commissioned second lieutenants participate in the traditional hat toss at the end of the 2014 commencement ceremony at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y., May 28, 2014.

Esper is a 1986 graduate of West Point, the US Military Academy, where he was classmates with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Esper has a Master’s of Public Administration from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, as well as a Ph.D in public policy from George Washington University, according to his official Department of Defence biography.

In February 2018, while serving as secretary of the Army, Esper visited his alma mater, where he participated in physical training exercises with cadets and discussed increased reports of sexual assault and harassment at the military academy, according to PointerView, a weekly publication for the West Point community.


Esper was commissioned to the infantry and served in the Gulf War.

Sgt. Henry Villarama/DVIDSU.S. Army Soldiers assigned to 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) stand in formation during a memorial ceremony in Carentan, France, June 7, 2019.

After graduation, Esper joined the Army infantry and served in the Persian Gulf War. According to his official Department of Defence biography, Esper completed Ranger and Pathfinder schools before serving with the 101st Airborne Division – also known as the “Screaming Eagles.”

After the Gulf War, Esper was stationed in Vicenza, Italy, where he was in charge of a rifle company with the 3-325 Airborne Battalion Combat Team. Esper spent 10 years on active duty and 11 years in the Army Reserve and National Guard before retiring in 2007.

He has earned the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star medal and the Combat Infantryman badge, among other decorations.


Esper was a lobbyist for weapons manufacturer Raytheon.

US AIr Force via RaytheonA partnership between Raytheon and Kongsberg, the Joint Strike Missile is a long-distance, anti-ship missile designed to take on high-value, heavily defended targets

After a stint as a Congressional staffer (and as former Sen. Fred Thompson’s national policy director during his 2008 presidential campaign), Esper was the vice president for Government Relations at the Raytheon Company – in other words, a lobbyist for the weapons manufacturer, The New York Times reports.

Noah Bookbinder, executive director of government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington told the Associated Press, “While Esper may not have had sway over these types of deals as secretary of the Army, as acting Secretary of Defence he will have potential influence over such deals.”

Esper was nominated to the position just after a proposed merger between his former employer and United Technologies Corporation was announced.


Esper served as Secretary of the Army.

Master Sgt. Sarah Mattison/US Air National GuardEsper visited the Army Mountain Warfare School in March.

Esper was nominated to the secretary of the Army position in 2017, and was sworn in on November 20 of that year. After just over 18 months at that post, Trump chose Esper to be his acting secretary of Defence, tweeting that he “will be naming Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, to be the new Acting Secretary of Defence. I know Mark, and have no doubt he will do a fantastic job!”

According to The New York Times, Trump touted Esper’s credentials during his announcement, calling Esper “a highly respected gentleman with a great career – West Point, Harvard, a tremendous talent.”


Esper takes over the job from former acting Defence Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan, who resigned his post last week.

Trump’s previous acting secretary of defence, Patrick Shanahan, declined to go further with his nomination process, after Trump stalled for months on officially nominating him to the permanent post. He announced his resignation on June 18.

Shanahan stepped down after media reports about domestic abuse allegations, including a 2010 incident in which Shanahan’s ex-wife claimed he hit her; Shanahan said she was the aggressor. Police in Seattle, where they lived at the time, arrested Shanahan’s ex-wife but dropped charges against her due to lack of evidence, according to USA Today.

Trump said he was unaware of the incident, as well as one in which Shanahan’s son, William, violently beat his mother with a baseball bat, when he nominated Shanahan to be deputy secretary of defence in 2017. Shanahan’s official nomination to the Pentagon’s top post was delayed as the FBI investigated those incidents.

“It is unfortunate that a painful and deeply personal family situation from long ago is being dredged up,” Shanahan said in a statement last Tuesday.

“I believe my continuing in the confirmation process would force my three children to relive a traumatic chapter in our family’s life and reopen wounds we have worked years to heal.”


Esper is walking into a tense standoff between the US and Iran.

Esper is walking into a turbulent national security landscape, after escalating tensions between the US and Iran have raised the specter of open conflict between the two countries.

Esper attended meetings last Thursday alongside Shanahan to determine how the US should respond to an Iranian attack on an unmanned US drone.

Esper reported for his first day of work on Monday. According to CBS News reporter Mark Knoller, Esper didn’t respond to questions about his first order of business as he entered the Pentagon.

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