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An Army Black Knights football player tackles an Air Force Falcons player at Michie Stadium in West Point, N.Y., on Nov. 3, 2018. Army photo by Brandon OConnor.

​Defense Secretary Mark Esper might not be afraid to talk on the tough issues—like Pentagon transparency and the US military’s future in space—but there’s one thing he’s not touching with a ten foot pole: the 2019 Army-Air Force football game.

Following brief remarks at AFA’s 2019 Air, Space & Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md.—his first major address to an Air Force audience since his confirmation as SECDEF—an audience member asked the Army veteran and former service chief to comment on his former branch’s upcoming on-field face-off with USAF.

 

Video: Defense Department

Esper called the query “the toughest” he’s received in a while.

“I think it’ll be a very good game,” he responded, following an eruption of laughter and applause from the audience. “I hope no one is injured. I hope everybody plays to their fullest potential.”

But he admitted his diplomacy was calculated.

“That’s called a dodge, by the way,” he said.