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Defense Leaders Unveil Portrait of Former Defense Secretary

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Defense leaders today unveiled a portrait of former Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper during a ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia.

The portrait is destined to hang alongside those of dozens of other defense secretaries on the walls of the Pentagon’s E Ring. 

Esper served as the 27th secretary of defense, taking office in July 2019. As secretary, he led the department through the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the creation of the Space Force, and a refocus on strategic competition, said Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III. 

“You led DOD through the frightening early months of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Austin said. “That was a time of dread, uncertainty and terrible loss. Yet, thousands of DOD personnel helped to get desperately needed supplies and care to Americans around the country.” 



Secretary Esper, thank you for serving at a time of great uncertainty and challenge. Thank you for your love of this great institution. Thank you for your profound care for this department and the people of this department, and thank you for this capstone and a long life of service.”

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III

During that time, the department, led by Esper, also worked with other government agencies and the private sector to increase domestic production of COVID-19 tests, protective gear and the COVID-19 vaccines that have since saved countless lives, Austin said. 

“You also worked to focus this department’s attention and resources on China — an effort that we are carrying forward as we speak,” Austin said. “You pushed to rebalance our posture around the world, including bracing for competition with other great powers. And you worked hard to modernize our military and to improve its lethality and readiness.” 

Like Austin, Esper also focused on taking care of service members and their families, Austin said. 

“I know that you’re especially proud of your efforts to improve the quality of life for our service members and their families,” he said. “You worked to improve military pay and benefits, to improve on-base housing, to provide greater career flexibility for service members with families, and so much more. And that touched the lives of thousands of men and women who served.” 

Esper thanked Austin and the many of the military officers, government civilians and other cabinet secretaries who worked for him and with him through his tenure as secretary of defense. 

“Dr. Seuss once said, ‘life’s just one great journey. It’s a road we travel as we go from point A to point B. What makes that journey worthwhile is the people we choose to travel with, the people we hold close as we take steps into the darkness and blindly make our way through life. They are the people who matter.’ Thank you all very much for traveling with me on my journey,” Esper told those who attended the event. 

Esper, who also served as the 27th secretary of the Army, is a 1986 graduate of the U. S. Military Academy and received his commission in the infantry.  

After completing Ranger and Pathfinder training, he served in the 101st Airborne Division and participated in the 1990-91 Gulf War with the “Screaming Eagles.” He later commanded a rifle company in the 3-325 Airborne Battalion Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy. He retired from the Army in 2007 after spending 10 years on active duty and 11 years in the National Guard and Army Reserve. 

The former defense secretary is a recipient of the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service. Among his many 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. 

“Secretary Esper, thank you for serving at a time of great uncertainty and challenge,” Austin said. “Thank you for your love of this great institution. Thank you for your profound care for this department and the people of this department, and thank you for this capstone and a long life of service.”