President Obama has announced his nomination for the next Secretary of the Army and his selection is getting more than the normal press coverage because he is both a career civilian DOD advisor and openly gay. The question is which of these reasons is the one which prompted the President to select him?
Almost as soon as President Obama announced Eric K. Fanning as his selection for the next Secretary of the Army, both the main stream media and gay rights activists hailed his selection as a step forward for not only the Army but the military as a whole. Many have spoken about Fanning, who is well liked and respected at the Pentagon, as the perfect choice to change the military culture when it comes to the acceptance of gay service members. It should also be noted that many of these same activists are also optimistic concerning how he will address the current cultural divide – women serving in combat. But I believe that many people may be underestimating Fanning’s dedication and professionalism.
Eric Fanning is no newcomer to the Pentagon, or to high level positions of responsibility. Prior to his nomination, he worked as acting under secretary for outgoing Secretary of the Army John McHugh, a position which was obviously done in anticipation of his nomination. Previous positions include being a close advisor to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, a strong proponent of integrating women into combat roles, as well as under secretary for the Air Force, under secretary of the Navy and deputy chief management officer of the Navy. During his time as under secretary of the Air Force, he also served as acting Secretary of the Air Force while a full time appointment was going through the nomination process. By all accounts, he not only handled these positions well but was known for looking out for the service members under his command.
Despite not having served himself, Fanning has an undeniable connection to the military; one which is much stronger than some of his predecessors. It is this connection which I believe may backfire when it comes to predicting his future position on hot button topics such as women in combat or transgender service members in uniform. The way I see it, President Obama, and possibly Secretary of Defense Carter, view Fanning as being in their corner on these topics because he is a civilian and not corrupted by the military culture and also because he is gay. However, although he is a civilian, he has spent a lifetime supporting and even leading various military components so it remains to be seen how strong this influence has been. While it is reasonable to believe his own sexual identity may influence his views concerning transgender or female service members, it is just as likely that his years of working at the Pentagon may also lead him to make such decisions based solely on the needs of the service- not the needs of politicians or special interest groups.
Only time will tell.
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