Yesterday was a good day on Capitol Hill, as the Senate confirmed Eric Fanning to be the new Army secretary. This is great news, because, as The Army Times reports, Fanning is “widely viewed as one of the most capable leaders in the Pentagon.” He’s got a resume that would make even the most seasoned Washington veteran blush, and outgoing secretary John McHugh has commended both Fanning’s “sound judgment and insight” as well as President Obama for making “an outstanding nomination.”
Eric Fanning is also gay, and will be the first out person in a leadership position of the United States military.
Prior to his nomination last fall, Fanning spoke with Defense Intelligence Employees in June about the major changes he’s seen in the Department of Defense regarding treatment of the LGBT community over the past 20 years. During a DIA Pride Month event, Fanning told colleagues that while there are still challenges to being out in the military, “There is a much larger community out there that is looking for opportunities to show its support of us,” describing the transition of attitudes as moving from “tolerance to acceptance to embrace.”
Fanning’s confirmation took eight months, but the hang up didn’t have anything to do with his sexuality. Republican Senator Pat Roberts from Kansas blocked the process because of his own opposition to Obama’s efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. Roberts wanted assurances from the Administration that no detainees would be transferred from Gitmo to Fort Leavenworth in his home state.
NBCNews reports that Senator Roberts made his position clear on the floor of the Senate last month, saying “Let me be very clear on this—as a veteran, a Marine—I support Mr. Eric Fanning for this post. If the White House calls and assures me that terrorists held at Guantanamo will not come to Fort Leavenworth, I will release the hold—immediately.”
The senator reportedly received such assurances in private, and made good on his word to let the confirmation go through. Fanning has most recently been serving as the acting under secretary of the Army, and before that he was the chief of staff to Defense Secretary Ash Carter. He has also served as acting secretary and undersecretary of the Air Force, and has been both the deputy undersecretary and deputy chief management officer of the Navy.
Shortly after receiving his nomination from President Obama, his now former boss, Defense Secretary Carter, had nothing but praise for Fanning, saying that “Eric served as my first chief of staff at the Pentagon, and it has been a privilege over the course of my career to work alongside him and watch him develop into one of our country’s most knowledgeable, dedicated and experienced public servants.”
As Obama prepares to leave office next year, he is demonstrating a strong commitment to empowering the LGBT community with a combination of policy moves and staffing decisions. He officially repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010, extended federal benefits to same-sex married couples in July of last year, and oversaw the hiring of the White House’s first openly transgender staffer in August.