President Obama is nominating a gay man to lead the Army, and if confirmed the nominee would become the first openly gay civilian secretary of any branch of the military on more than an interim basis.
Obama's nominee, announced today, is Eric Fanning (pictured above), who "has been a specialist on defense and national security issues for more than 25 years in Congress and the Pentagon," The Washington Post reports. As secretary, he would head the Army in partnership with Gen. Mark Milley, named the branch's top general last month.
"Eric brings many years of proven experience and exceptional leadership to this new role," said a statement released by Obama. "I look forward to working with Eric to keep our Army the very best in the world." Fanning now awaits confirmation by the Senate.
Fanning has served as the interim secretary of the Air Force, a post he assumed in 2013, and since June has been acting undersecretary of the Army. With both the Air Force and Navy, he supervised the development of important weapons programs in those military branches, the Post reports.
His nomination comes at a time when the Army has seen cuts in funding and personnel, as its resources have been stretched severely by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the paper notes. Only one-third of its members have sufficient training to go into a war zone, and it has not developed any major new weapons programs since 2000.
"Eric is taking over at a critical time for the Army," Rudy deLeon, who was deputy secretary of Defense during Bill Clinton's presidency, told the Post. "The Army is still living off equipment from the Reagan years. ... Eric knows what works and what doesn't work in the Pentagon."
LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN praised Fanning's nomination. "He continues to break down barriers in his career advancements," interim executive director Matt Thorn said in a press release, "and I know that Eric will be the leader that the Army needs. Eric undoubtedly has a masterful grasp on military policy and strategic defense initiatives that will serve the Army and the Department of Defense well during his tenure.
"Further, 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 urged the Senate Armed Services Committee, headed by John McCain, to quickly confirm Fanning as secretary.
"History continues to be written and equality marches forward with the nomination of an openly gay man to serve in this significantly important role," said Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association, the nation's largest support organization for LGBT military families.
"Fanning's expertise and knowledge within the defense community together with his sensitivity to issues faced by LGBT service members and their families is why we urge the Senate to move quickly to confirm his appointment."
If confimed, Fanning would replace John McHugh, who plans to step down November 1 after six years as secretary. Patrick Murphy, the first Iraq war veteran elected to Congress, is awaiting Senate confirmation to be the service's next undersecretary.
As reported by the Army Times, Fanning and Murphy were instrumental in the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," and stand ready to assume the top two civilian jobs in the Army.