In a move that is sure to rile up conservatives and homophobes, President Obama has nominated longtime Pentagon official Eric Fanning to become the new secretary of the Army. If confirmed, Fanning would be the first openly gay secretary of any U.S. military branch.
Fanning has been acting undersecretary of the Army since June. He has also served as special assistant to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and held senior positions in the Air Force, including undersecretary from 2013 to 2015.
“Eric brings many years of proven experience and exceptional leadership to this new role,” Mr. Obama said in a written statement. “I am grateful for his commitment to our men and women in uniform, and I am confident he will help lead America’s soldiers with distinction. I look forward to working with Eric to keep our Army the very best in the world.”
The selection of Fanning seemed to be a popular choice among military circles.
“I can’t think of any civilian with more experience with the services, having served in senior positions in all three,” said Derek Chollet, a former assistant defense secretary. “He understands all of their unique cultures and processes.”
As a civilian, Mr. Fanning never had to conform to the 15 year-long “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy preventing openly gay service members. However, his appointment makes it clear that both President Obama and Secretary Carter are committed to creating a military that is more open toward gays and lesbians.
Although the Pentagon lifted its prohibition of openly gay service members in 2011, the military as a whole continues to struggle with a culture in which gay and lesbian members say they still feel uncomfortable. Fanning’s presence could instantly change that.
If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Fanning will help guide the country’s largest military service in integrating gay soldiers. He would replace John McHugh, who plans to step down by November 1st.