President Obama has nominated gay Defense Department official Eric Fanning for the position of Army secretary, the White House announced on Friday.
If confirmed by the Senate, Fanning would become the first-ever openly gay person to serve in a Senate-confirmed role as head of the civilian side of a military service.
Obama heaped praise on Fanning in a statement on Friday, saying the official’s years in the Obama administration would be a boon to the Army.
“Eric brings many years of proven experience and exceptional leadership to this new role,” Obama said. “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.”
Fanning previously served as head of the civilian side of a military service as acting Air Force secretary, but that wasn’t a Senate-confirmed role and ended after the Senate confirmed Deborah Lee James as Air Force secretary.
Currently, Fanning is acting under secretary of the Army, which is an appointment that many observers saw as a stepping stone to a nomination as Army secretary. Obama has already nominated leader of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and former Rep. Patrick Murphy as under secretary of the Army to replace Fanning in the Army’s No. 2 civilian position.
Fanning has served in various roles at the Pentagon over the course of the Obama administration, including deputy under secretary of the Navy, under secretary of the Air Force, acting secretary of the Air Force, Pentagon chief of staff and acting under secretary of the Army.
A former board member of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, Fanning is no stranger to LGBT rights. In a 2013 interview with the Washington Blade, Fanning said he supports openly transgender service and, as has now come to pass, adding sexual orientation to the list of protected classes under the Military Equal Opportunity policy.
Matthew Thorn, interim executive director of OutServe-SLDN, said he’s “thrilled” with Fanning’s nomination to the No. 1 civilian post in the Army.
“Having an openly gay individual in high-level positions within the Department of Defense helps to set the tone at the top and provides an opportunity to bring better understanding about both the shared and the unique needs of LGBT individuals in the military and their families,” Thorn said.
Also praising Fanning was Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who said nominating the official as Army secretary is an “excellent choice.”
“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,” Carter said. “I know he will strengthen our Army, build on its best traditions, and prepare our ground forces to confront a new generation of challenges.”
In a related development, Amanda Simpson, former executive director of the U.S. Army Office of Energy Initiatives, was sworn in on Friday as deputy assistant secretary of defense for operational energy. She’s considered the highest-ranking openly transgender official in the Obama administration.