Former Ranger Ryan McCarthy Hopes to Lead Army Through Human Connection

  • Ryan McCarthy, serving as acting secretary of the Army, talks with leaders from Army Cadet Command during ROTC cadet training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Matthew Cox/Military.com
    Ryan McCarthy, serving as acting secretary of the Army, talks with leaders from Army Cadet Command during ROTC cadet training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Matthew Cox/Military.com
  • Ryan McCarthy, serving as acting secretary of the Army, participates in an Army cook-off against Chef Robert Irvine at the Taste of Chicago during a recent trip to the city. Spc. Dana Clarke/Army
    Ryan McCarthy, serving as acting secretary of the Army, participates in an Army cook-off against Chef Robert Irvine at the Taste of Chicago during a recent trip to the city. Spc. Dana Clarke/Army
  • Then Under Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy visits Soldiers and leadership from the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, March 19, 2019. (U.S. Army/ Capt. Adan Cazarez)
    Then Under Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy visits Soldiers and leadership from the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, March 19, 2019. (U.S. Army/ Capt. Adan Cazarez)

For nearly two years, Ryan McCarthy has built a reputation as one of the most visible figures in the Army. Now, the former 75th Ranger Regiment leader is a congressional hearing away from becoming the top official in the largest military service.

The Senate received President Donald Trump's official nomination Thursday for McCarthy, the service's undersecretary since November 2017, to become the new secretary of the Army.

The announcement comes months after Trump chose then-Army Secretary Mark Esper to replace Patrick Shanahan in mid-July as acting Pentagon chief at a time when the service is already undergoing sweeping leadership changes. Esper has since been confirmed as the permanent SecDef.

Since then, McCarthy has been serving as the senior official, performing the duties of the secretary of the Army while learning how to take a less-active approach to the tasks that filled his day as the undersecretary.

Related: Senate Schedules Joint Confirmation Hearing for Army, Air Force Leaders

While he projects confidence, McCarthy admitted to Military.com on a recent trip to Fort Knox, Kentucky, that it's "the transition back and forth that is very difficult."

"That's tough; it's how you approach each day and how you prepare for the following day," he said. "I have to do a lot of soul-searching but, first and foremost, I've got to get confirmed for the job. When I get up there and get a hearing, I've got to get through the process."

McCarthy served as acting Army secretary once before -- from Aug. 1 to Nov. 16, 2017.

Since then, he has maintained his stature as the face of the service traveling around the country and working on major challenges such as recruiting, modernization and budget issues.

Despite a commanding presence, McCarthy tries very hard to connect with people -- whether he's talking to ROTC cadets, Army commissioned and noncommissioned officers or raw recruits.

"I care very deeply about them and this institution because of what the country asks them to do so, on a very personal level, it's an extraordinary privilege to meet them, to be a leader in this organization," McCarthy said. "It's important for me to understand them and let them know that I understand them. ... Whether they are cadets, noncommissioned officers or general officers, they all have the challenges that you face in life. If you don't understand them, you don't know how to help them."

In his travels, McCarthy occasionally runs into soldiers he served with in the 75th Ranger Regiment from 1997 to 2002, men he deployed to Afghanistan with who remind him where he came from, he said.

"They are the people that taught me how to be a team leader and got you through some very long days in your life, and they remind you of humility," he said.

In addition to McCarthy's new role, the service recently welcomed Gen. James McConville as the new chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Joseph Martin as the new vice chief of staff, and Sgt. Maj. Michael Grinston as the new sergeant major of the Army.

The service's general counsel, Jim McPherson, has been chosen to take over as undersecretary of the Army.

"These guys are extraordinarily talented," McCarthy said.

In the midst of these leadership transitions, the Army is pushing hard to maintain congressional support for its sweeping modernization plan, a time-consuming effort that McCarthy admits he will have to step back from as he takes on new responsibilities.

"We are going to have an off-site for the senior leadership team this summer, and we are going to talk about it," he said. "So, whether I am a senior official or an acting or confirmed [secretary], I am in the seat for a while and I will have to make the appropriate adjustments."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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