Secretary of the Army, Mike T. Esper, visited Fort Polk to monitor the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) during their most recent soldier rotation.

After the initial visit, Esper met with the local press to discuss his visit, the changing state of warfare and the general support that Fort Polk receives from the neighboring towns of Vernon Parish.

Esper spoke to the press about the changing state of JRTC training and the pursuit to tackle more demanding training regiments in order to prepare for high intensity combat experiences that are expected to take place in the future.

“We had seen a decrease in Army Readiness in the past, but with great support from congress and a great FY17 (fiscal year 2017) funding, we’re on an upward trajectory to improve. At the same time, Secretary of Defense (Jim) Mattis has given us a defense strategy that tells us to focus on the high intensity conflict that we believe will be likely in the future.

“My visit to Fort Polk has shown that the training is a lot more demanding than what I went through 25 years ago. I’m very encouraged by what they’re doing, General (Patrick) Frank and his team are on the right path with presenting threat scenarios our soldiers are likely to experience in any future conflict with a near peer competitor.”

Esper talked with Brigadier General Patrick Frank and his team about many of the scenarios and training regiments that he experienced at Fort Polk, as well as the new doctrines and tactics that the Armed Forces could be developing in the near future based on higher intensity combat.

Esper also expressed how pivotal the JRTC program would be in the future to ensure the readiness of soldiers for the new combat experiences that they are set to face.

He talked about how the JRTC and the National Training Center will be an important feedback loop to further develop the new tactics and techniques that will be carried forward within the United States Armed Forces.

“There’s a reason why the JRTC and the National Training Center are the last stops for any unit before they go abroad on deployment,” said Esper.  “It is because we know this is the place they get the most demanding, the most rigorous training to validate all that they have received beforehand so that they are ready to deploy.”

Esper discussed the current Fiscal Year 19 National Defense Authorization Act that passed in Congress, which authorizes a $717 billion national defense budget.

Esper expressed his gratitude for the bipartisan support coming from Congress, and that this new bill will provide a hopeful look towards further strengthening and preparing the United States Armed Forces for future combat scenarios in accordance with the new initiative the Secretary of Defense has for Armed Forces readiness.

Esper lined out what the Armed Forces will be preparing for in the future and the vision put in place to modernize the various degrees of equipment and training for soldiers preparing to be deployed to deal with the new threats developing within a new age of combat.

“What I try to do from the vision that’s put forth, is to take my responsibilities as Secretary of the Army, which is to man, organize, train, equip and lead, and apply that to the future of combat. I need to have an Army of about 500,000 regular soldiers, with associated growth in the Guard and Reserves, and I know I need to organize differently to put certain capabilities back into our units.

“All of these training centers are helping to buy back readiness, forcing us to deal with drones in the skies above the battlefield, electronic warfare that will knock out our communications, enemies in urban terrain. Those three things are what we have outlined in our vision for the Armed Forces, and JRTC and NTC are the places that will bring soldiers in and prepare them for those threats.”

The exact nature of warfare and how it is changing was a noteworthy subject during the conference, with Esper weighing in on the nature of combat and the many new facets and types of combat that are being introduced into the modern age.

“I don’t think it is changed so much as it is all starting to blur together,” Esper said. “So JRTC and NTC will be presenting this to our soldiers, you will be seeing the full spectrum of conflict, like low intensity irregular warfare, hybrid medium warfare and then all the way up to high intensity.”

Esper went into detail about the new Multi-Domain Operations, which will be exploring all new domains within the Armed Forces from the traditional land, air and sea, to new terrain like space, cyberspace and electronic warfare.

“We’re going to have to develop our leaders to operate within those new environments,” Esper said. “That is what we will be facing on the new battlefield, and that is what we have to be prepared for as we look to warfare and the future ahead.”

Esper closed out the conference with an expression of optimism that the United States Armed Forces will be able to achieve a readiness capability to compete with near peer competitors by the 2022 timeframe, with continued support from Congress playing a huge role in keeping that trajectory.