NORFOLK, Va. - Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark Esper spent Wednesday meeting with Sailors and Navy leadership in Hampton Roads during his first visit to the region in his new role.
Secretary Esper spent the morning with Sailors doing physical training and toured the USS Boise submarine and USS Gravely destroyer at Naval Station Norfolk.
He also talked with News 3 about his concerns with the looming start of the fiscal year on October 1 and the likelihood the Department of Defense will have to operate under a temporary Continuing Resolution.
"DOD continues to wrestle with the fact that we likely will not have a budget on time and may not see a budget for months. This is deeply troubling, particularly for ships that need to deploy, ships that need to go into maintenance, for training and readiness and all those things," he said on the pier alongside the USS Gravely.
"Every day that we have a Continuing Resolution means it’s a day in which our training, our maintenance, our modernization, everything is impaired because there are a number of things you cannot do under a CR such as new starts of programs, you can adjust your munitions purchases, etc. etc.," Secretary Esper told News 3 anchor Todd Corillo.
"So, the biggest concern we have out there is not only does this drag on for weeks or months but it could end up being a year long continuing resolution. That is devastating, devastating towards our military readiness," he added.
Secretary Esper also acknowledged a recent series of suicides involving Sailors assigned to the USS George H.W. Bush.
"The suicides are tragic, every single one is a tragedy and you mourn for the families, you mourn for their shipmates and everyone else. I wish we could tell you we have an answer to prevent further future suicides in the armed services. We don’t. I know the services are committed to doing this, I’m committed to doing this, because we just can’t let these great young Americans take their lives because of financial pressure or relationship challenges or whatever comes up, we need to help them, we need to start with prevention," Secretary Esper said.
During his visit, Dr. Esper said he's learned a lot about the Navy and the importance of ship maintenance schedules.
"The key thing is we need to have adequate shipyards and qualified workforce to do that, whether it’s in the public or private sector. We need to get ships in on time, and we need to get them out on time and we need to better manage the demand coming from our combatant commands to make sure again we can stick to our maintenance schedules."
Secretary Esper was scheduled to meet with more Navy leadership and tour the USS Gerald R. Ford at Newport News Shipbuilding before returning to Washington.