The Pentagon’s first openly gay chief of staff and one of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s closest advisers is moving into the open role of acting undersecretary of the Army.
Carter asked Eric Fanning, former Air Force undersecretary, to be a point man on his transition team as the Pentagon administration switched from former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
“With Eric Fanning’s significant experience and expertise, there are few as qualified to excel in this significant role within the Department of Defense,” the Human Rights Campaign said in February in response to the chief of staff promotion. “As an openly gay man, his appointment is not only breaking former barriers for the LGBT community, but it is further evidence of the tremendous progress towards fairness and equality that we continue to make within the Department of Defense. We congratulate him and look forward to working with him and Secretary Carter on the challenges that remain.”
Fanning, 47, who has never served in uniform, worked on the House Armed Services Committee and at the White House before moving over to the Navy as deputy undersecretary in 2009. He was nominated by President Obama for the Air Force undersecretary in 2012 and confirmed the following year. He stepped into the acting secretary role when Michael Donley resigned in June 2013, and Deborah Lee James was confirmed that December as secretary.
“One of my first decisions upon returning to the Pentagon was asking Eric Fanning to serve as my chief of staff,” Carter said in a statement this morning. “His deep well of knowledge and vast experience in the Pentagon, honed during his tenure as deputy undersecretary of the Navy and acting secretary of the Air Force, have been crucial assets for my front office. He has also helped me build an outstanding team of civilian and military leaders across the Pentagon.”
“Working with him closely over the last several months, I’ve seen first-hand why he is one of the most respected appointees in the Obama administration.”
Carter said Fanning will now provide Army Secretary John McHugh “with vital support as he prepares to conclude his tenure.”
“I will forever be grateful for Eric’s advice and leadership during this crucial first phase of my time as secretary of defense, and look forward to continuing to work with him as he helps lead the men and women of the world’s most powerful ground force,” he added.
Deputy Chief of Staff Eric Rosenbach, a former Army intelligence officer, is promoted to chief of staff effective today.
Fanning told a Defense Intelligence Agency Pride Month event last month that he’s seen the Defense Department go “from tolerance to acceptance to embrace” of the LGBT community.
“There is a much larger community out there that is looking for opportunities to show its support of us — that’s certainly been my experience as I’ve come out in my professional network, and it’s picking up steam,” he said. “…Today, there is a caucus there, and now there is support for all of us. We have this community of support whenever we try to do anything or put ourselves forward.”
The move to acting Army undersecretary is seen by many as positioning Fanning to move into the role of secretary of the Army when McHugh resigns in November.
Carter has signaled support for transgender troops, as has Fanning.