The 27th Secretary of Defense, visited Marine Corps Air Station New River and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune with a particular focus on military readiness, modernization of force and Hurricane Florence recovery efforts, Sept. 24.
The Boeing C-32 aircraft carrying the Honorable Mark T. Esper landed on MCAS New River just before 9 Tuesday morning where he and an entourage of reporters and staff members were greeted by Lt. Gen. Brian D. Beaudreault, commanding general, II Marine Expeditionary Force, and Col. Curtis Ebitz, commanding officer, MCAS New River. While on MCAS New River, Esper visited with pilots and maintainers and viewed an array of aircraft including Cobras and Hueys from HMLA-167, Super Stallions from VMX-1, Ospreys from VMMT-204 and a F-35B Lightning II from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501.
After the tour of the air station, Esper's motorcade transitioned to MCB Camp Lejeune, beginning with a visit to the members of 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Esper then addressed Marines and Sailors with II MEF, MCB Camp Lejeune, MCAS New River and U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command during a town hall event at Goettge Memorial Field House.
Esper discussed an array of topics to include force modernization and answered questions Marines had about current conflicts, future operations and training. Esper stressed his priority focus areas: improving military readiness, strengthening military alliances, bringing reform to the Department of Defense and taking care of service members and their families. Acknowledging strategic competitors like China and Russia, he noted we are in an era of "great power competition" and the Marine Corps "should be prepared for high intensity conflict."
"Improve your readiness and increase your lethality; that is job number one," said Esper. "We are in the business of warfighting, so every day that's what you should think about whether you're a young Marine, a platoon leader or platoon commander, first sergeant, all the way up the chain of command. You need to think about what it takes to get ready to ensure your Marines are prepared to go in the fight and win."
The Secretary of Defense also stressed that military readiness not only includes maintenance on equipment, but the service members as well.
"For the NCOs and junior leaders, it all comes down to you, it's about how you train your Marines, but it's not just the basics like firing your weapons. It includes readiness of our fleet and readiness of our aircraft. The most lethal fighting machine on the Earth, the United States service member, in this case the Marines, take care of each other, watch out for one another."
At the conclusion of the town hall, Beaudreault presented Esper with a K-Bar in appreciation for his visit and in his words, "to demonstrate that the Marine Corps is the most lethal fighting force."
Esper thanked the Marines in attendance for their service.
"When the nation calls, America's 911 force will always be ready, and that's all of you," he said.
Esper continued his tour of MCB Camp Lejeune with the goal of seeing firsthand the base's level of readiness, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. He toured storm-damaged family housing, and walked through new and older-style barracks to gain a better appreciation for service members’ living conditions on the base. The tour concluded with a quick visit to MARSOC at Stone Bay where the secretary received a classified briefing and viewed the latest technology and assets its special operators employ.
Also in attendance with the Secretary of Defense and his staff was wife Leah Esper, who toured DoDEA schools, Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Community Services facilities. Photos of her visit are available on page 4A.