Obama Names First Openly Gay Civilian To Lead Army

Eric Fanning’s nomination furthers Obama’s policy of adding diversity to top government posts; to critics, Fanning’s military career overshadowed by his sexual orientation.

President Barack Obama on Friday announced he is nominating Eric Fanning to be the next Secretary of the Army, which, if confirmed by the Senate, will make Fanning the first openly gay person to serve in the Army’s highest civilian role.

The historic move, which comes almost exactly four years to the day from the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (the policy that did not allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military) makes this nomination that much more significant, even though, as a holder of civilian roles in the Defense Department, DADT did not necessarily apply to Fanning.

In announcing his nomination, Obama cited Fanning’s long tenure in the Pentagon and his broad and deep experience with some of the Defense Department’s most complex programs as a key factor in his selection, according to the administration. The fact that Fanning happens to be gay is secondary.

“Eric brings many years of proven experience and exceptional leadership to this new role,” Obama said in a statement.

Fanning currently serves as acting undersecretary of the Army and chief management officer. He has considerable experience in the military and has held several high level roles, including special assistant to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, undersecretary of the Air Force, acting Air Force secretary and as a deputy undersecretary of the Navy.

Fanning’s decades-long experience in military affairs began as a research assistant for the Committee on Armed Services in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1991, after which he served as special assistant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 1993 to 1996. He later joined the White House as an associate director of Political Affairs.

Prior to joining the Administration, Fanning was deputy director of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism and also worked as the Washington regional director then senior vice president for strategic development for Business Executives for National Security.

“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 servant[s],” Carter said in a statement. “I know he will strengthen our Army, build on its best traditions, and prepare our ground forces to confront a new generation of challenges.”

Fanning’s nomination further adds to the Obama Administration’s deliberate strategy to include minorities and women in top government posts. In fact, according to the Washington Post, Obama has placed women and minorities in 53.5 percent of top policy roles, while under President George W. Bush women and minorities held only 25.6 percent of those positions. Under President Bill Clinton, the number was 37.5 percent.

Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama’s closest advisers, told the Post the president has “made a very deliberate effort to be inclusive in the diversity of his administration at all levels.”

“So yes, African Americans, women, Latinos, Native Americans, people with disabilities, the LGBT community … he wanted to make sure that everybody had an opportunity to serve in this administration and that its diversity reflected the diversity of our country.”

In response to the nomination, American Military Partner Association, the nation’s largest support organization for LGBT military families, praised the move as a huge step forward.

“We are thrilled to see Eric Fanning nominated to lead the world’s greatest Army,” said AMPA president Ashley Broadway-Mack. “History continues to be written and equality marches forward with the nomination of an openly gay man to serve in this significantly important role.”

However, not everybody was as supportive.

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee on Saturday said Obama was “appeasing” the gay community by nominating an openly gay man to be secretary of the Army.

“It’s clear President Obama is more interested in appeasing America’s homosexuals than honoring America’s heroes. Veterans suicide is out-of-control and military readiness is dangerously low,” Huckabee said in a statement. “Yet Obama is so obsessed with pandering to liberal interest groups he’s nominated an openly gay civilian to run the Army. Homosexuality is not a job qualification. The U.S. military is designed to keep American safe and complete combat missions, not conduct social experiments.”

Huckabee also used the “social experiment” line last month to refer to the idea of transgender individuals serving openly in the military.

“Considering the tremendous struggles that LGBT Americans have faced within the Department of Defense, Fanning’s nomination is deeply significant,” Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, told The Huffington Post. “This is a sign of hope and a demonstration of continued progress towards fairness and equality in our nation’s armed forces.”

An estimated 78,000 service members in the U.S. military, including active and reserve components, may identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, according to a Rand Corp. study from 2011, the most recent figures available.

The Senate must still confirm Fanning before he can assume the role.

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8 comments


  • No, homosexuality is not a job qualification, but should Mr. Fanning NOT be considered because he is gay? If he is qualified for the job, why shouldn’t he then be nominated for it? I don’t think the president would nominate a random person JUST because he is gay. Some of these Republican candidates pounce on the most inane ideas that have absolutely nothing to do with issues that really matter.

    • Fanning had several senior level assignments with increasing responsibility in the civilian control of our military. He is eminently qualified. I wonder what Gov. Huckabee’s obsession is really all about.

  • Huckabee is pandering so hard it’s obscene. Fanning is tremendously qualified, and just happens to be gay. This is exactly how it’s supposed to work.

    Congratulations, Gov. Huckabee. You’ve just insulted someone who has spent his career serving our country, and insulted an entire segment of our population by implying they only receive opportunities because of their LGBT status. Look in the mirror, sir. You’ve only received opportunities because of your religious status. An entire group of people follows you simply because of your religious beliefs.

    • This is really great! First we have Bill Clinton a known draft dodger ( Google it.) as well as a known liar and cheat who betrayed his wife as Commander and Chief of the armed forces.
      Now have Obama passing over qualified veterans and active service members just to make a
      points with the gay community by hiring a gay guy who has no idea what it’s like to serve in the military.
      Forget the welfare of the troops! Let’s hire a guy who avoided military service and get some votes.

      • You are right that Clinton, like “W”, Cheney and Trump were draft dodgers. W, Cheney and Trump are also chicken Hawks, which is the most cowardly and reprehensible kind of politician a person can be.

        But please allow me to give you a civics refresher: The position is for the civilian head (secretary) of the army, each of the services have a civilian Secretary running them. In turn, the civilian Secretary of Defense is superior to each service secretary (and reports to the President). This is the core of how our Republic controls and commands our military.

        The president selected a person whose career in the civilian command structure extends many years of positions of increasing responsibility. He is exceptionally qualified.

  • When I was in the Army in the 80s we didn’t give a rat’s rear which “perfumed prince”, as Hackworth called ’em, was appointed where in HQ/Pentagon shuffles. We pretty much hated ’em all, civilian or uniformed. Company or Battalion level leadership mattered but those generals and assistant over-secretaries for bathwater and bismuth were nothing to us, nothing more than another bureaucrat “militician” name on a meaningless organizational chart. So if Fanning is hated by today’s troops, as I expect he will be, he’ll surely be hated more for his inability to relate and for his out-of-touch remoteness than for his homosexuality.

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