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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 20, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 21
A Gay man is now in charge of the US Army
Section One
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A Gay man is now in charge of the US Army

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

On May 17, Eric Fanning, 47, was confirmed by the US Senate as the Secretary of the Army, making him the highest-ranking, openly Gay official in the history of the military.

Fanning released a brief statement Tuesday, but didn't mention the historic significance of his confirmation. 'I'm honored by today's Senate confirmation and thrilled to return to lead the total Army team,' he said in this statement.

Fanning comes highly qualified for the job. He was previously undersecretary of the Air Force and chief of staff to Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

Fanning's nomination comes just five years after the historic end of the discriminatory 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (DADT) law that prohibited qualified LGB Americans from serving in the US armed forces. His confirmation also comes as the military is preparing to move forward to lift the ban on Transgender service in the military.

'We are thrilled to see Eric Fanning finally confirmed as the next Secretary of the Army,' American Military Partner Association President Ashley Broadway-Mack said shortly after news spread of the historic confirmation. 'His leadership and experience within the defense community together with his sensitivity towards issues specifically facing our LGBT service members and their families make him the ideal candidate to lead our nation's Army. It has been a long, arduous road to his confirmation, and we look forward to working with him directly in the near future.'

Fanning was confirmed by unanimous voice vote, eight months following his nomination. Fanning was nominated to serve as Secretary of the Army by President Obama in September of last year and was later named Acting Secretary of the Army when Secretary McHugh retired, but stepped down while he awaited confirmation by the US Senate.

'Eric brings many years of proven experience and exceptional leadership to this new role,' the President said in a statement last September when he nominated Fanning for the job. '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.'

Fanning's confirmation was not prolonged because of any question of whether or not he could perform the duties required of the Secretary of the Army, nor was his sexual orientation called into question. Instead, Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) held up Fanning's nomination for months to underline his resistance to any possible transfer of prisoners from the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Roberts' home state.

Pledging to close the controversial Guantanamo Bay detention camp was one of the first pledges made by Obama after taking office in 2009. It is a policy Obama has showed renewed interest in during his final months in office.

President Obama has lambasted the center as undermining America's credibility and national security, but shuttering the facility has proved controversial, chiefly because of concern over what will become of the remaining 80 inmates.

Obama is thought to be weighing 13 potential sites in prisons and military bases in Colorado, South Carolina and Kansas that can hold the men, if they are released, as well as deporting a good number of inmates back to their home countries.

But Roberts said Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work told him during a meeting that he would be unable to fulfill an order to move Guantanamo detainees to the United States before Obama leaves office in January 2017, so he agreed to vote to confirm Fanning.

'The clock has run out for the president,' Roberts said.

Work did not confirm that conversation with Roberts, instead, saying that no option was off the table.

'I explained to Senator Roberts that we are trying to achieve the goal of closure with the support of Congress and we recognize that there is limited time left to achieve that support, both in terms of lifting Congressional restrictions and winning approval of funds to execute closure,' Work said in a statement.

Leading up to the historic vote on Tuesday, Roberts' opposition frustrated fellow Republican John McCain, who is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a strong supporter of Fanning's nomination. Still, on Tuesday McCain and Roberts appeared in the Senate together as Roberts announced that he had released his 'hold' on Fanning's confirmation. Additionally, McCain noted that this year's National Defense Authorization Act ensures that the Obama administration does not have the authority to release or transfer Guantanamo detainees to the US mainland.

Fanning has never served in the military, but the Army secretary is a civilian position.

OutServe-SLDN congratulated Fanning on finally being confirmed as Secretary of the Army in a statement released by the organization's Executive Director Matt Thorn.

'Eight months ago our Commander-in-Chief, President Barack Obama nominated a man who has a resume that is accomplished even by Washington standards to be Secretary of the Army and we can finally and long overdue say congratulations to Eric Fanning on being confirmed as the 22nd Secretary of the Army,' said Thorn. 'Eric Fanning's career is full of superlatives. Just reading Eric's resume one could only agree that he is more than qualified to be Secretary of the Army. In addition to his stellar qualifications, Eric will now become the first openly Gay Army Secretary.'

'Eric's sexual orientation has absolutely no bearing on his ability to do this job; nor was it the reason for his nomination,' continued Thorn. 'But this milestone of having an openly Gay individual in this high level position within the Department of Defense will help to continue to set a tone of understanding and respect for the LGBT community throughout the armed services.'

'Eric knows every military service, the bureaucracy of the Pentagon and Capitol Hill inside and out. And everyone - Democrats and Republicans - agrees that he will undoubtedly serve this post with honor, as he has done in all of his previous positions,' he said. 'As an individual who is deeply respected by both uniformed and civilian Department of Defense personnel we are thrilled that he has finally been confirmed.'

Thorn says Fanning is not the last stand for the LGBT military community but his confirmation is a significant one, a meaningful one.

'When a young girl will see someone like her in charge of the Army that she wants to join, that says something, that evokes something,' Thorn said.

'Finally, we applaud and are thankful to the Obama Administration for nominating Eric, sticking with him, fighting for his nomination and now will be able to swear him in as Secretary of the Army,' he said.

While his sexual orientation didn't come up in his confirmation, he has spoken out in the past about Gay service members, saying, '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. It's gone from tolerance to acceptance to embrace.'

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