September 18, 2015 at 3:45 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
In first, Obama nominates gay official as Army secretary
Eric Fanning, United States Air Force, gay news, Washington Blade, military

Eric Fanning (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • I cannot wait for the heads to start exploding. The right wing is going to go crazy over this. However, it will give us the chance to educate them. “Baron” Vov Stuben, the man called “The Father of the US Army” was a gay man from Prussia. Ironically this appointment come on Von Stuben’s birthday.

    • No not the “right wing”. Just guys like me that laced up boots at 19 and picked up a rifle to defend this country. Yes, the good old days in the USMC when we could count on our President to at least put people in charge that actually served in uniform.

      • Maybe you should read that constitution you swore to uphold. It calls for civilian control of the military. Which is why General Marshall need special congressional action to become assume a cabinet office.
        Military leadership is provided by the Army Chief of Staff, logistical, management, and oversight is provided by the Secretary of the Army. If you had bothered to actually read the article you would know that the nominee has work in the Pentagon for years.
        Given the failures military to address major problems in the military, while maintaining the old boys network, it will be good for someone who did not grow up in that network to take charge.

        • What are you talking about? While it is not a requirement to have prior service to hold this position, many past Army secretaries HAVE served. This guy is nothing more than an unqualified gay activist hack that sat on the board of directors for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund 2004 to 2007 and worked for CBS News. Maybe you should do some reading too pal.

          • Maybe you should stick to your branch of the Navy. This man has the qualifications required for a civilian charged with oversight. BTW, in all your vast knowledge of nothing, you should know sitting on a board of directors is NOT a full time job. But then again FACTS have nothing to do with your brand of hate.

          • Yes, I read plenty about Fanning’s background. And YOU are the hater here buddy, not me. I was having a conversation, but as always guys like you need to make it personal. Carry on, fearless keyboard warrior.

          • Really you were just carrying on a conversation. Using words like unqualified activist hack, and attack the president for appointing people you do not like, claiming he does not care about those in uniform.
            Oh I am quaking at the charge of being a fearless keyboard warrior. Such a sharp retort. I realize that some people think the only way you can serve your nation and support the constitution is by killing others. However, there are many of who put their lives and livelihoods on the line in this nation protecting the rights promised by the founders in the US Constitution.

  • Chief fudge packer of the US Army…that’s ‘hope & change’ for y’all.

  • I think that it should be mandatory that ALL gays serve in the Military. When I enlisted back in 1969 having, ” homosexual tendencies” was a disqualifier from serving in the U.S. Army.

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