If the Senate approves, the U. S. military will soon have its first openly homosexual Secretary of the Army.

Eric FanningGreg Jaffe reports for The Washington Post, Sept. 18, 2015, that in a historic first for the Pentagon, Obama has chosen to nominate Eric Fanning, 47, to lead the Army. “Eric brings many years of proven experience and exceptional leadership to this new role,” Obama said in a statement.

Fanning has been a trusted ally of Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter who tapped Fanning last year to oversee his transition team as he moved into the Pentagon’s top job. He also served briefly as acting Air Force secretary, a deputy undersecretary of the Navy and has been acting undersecretary of the Army since June 2015. Defense officials said that he might be the only person in the Pentagon’s history to serve at senior levels in all three of the services. “He understands how the Pentagon works and how to get things done in the Pentagon,” said Rudy de Leon, who was deputy defense secretary in the Clinton administration. “He knows what works and what doesn’t work.”

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Fanning has been a specialist on national security issues for more than two decades and has played a key role overseeing some of the Pentagon’s biggest shipbuilding and fighter jet weapons programs. Now he will oversee an Army that has been battered by the longest stretch of continuous combat in American history and is facing potentially severe budget cuts.

As Army secretary, Fanning will be teamed with Gen. Mark Milley, who took over as the Army’s top general in August. Together the two men will assume responsibility for the Pentagon’s largest and most troubled service.

The Army, which swelled to about 570,000 active duty troops during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has shed about 80,000 soldiers from its ranks in recent years and plans to cut 40,000 more over the next few years. Those planned cuts would shrink the service to its smallest size of the post-World War II era.

Battered by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has had to deal with a spike in suicides as the wars drew to an end and. Recently, the Army’s outgoing top officer, Gen. Ray Odierno, said that tight budgets and the ongoing strain of 14 years of war had badly degraded the Army’s readiness to fight and that only one-third of its brigades were prepared to deploy to a war zone, the lowest readiness rate in decades.

Fanning’s sexual orientation seemed a non-issue among Republicans and Democrats in Congress who were far more worried about the state of the Army. Joe Kasper, the chief of staff to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), said, “There is a real crisis in morale and retention that has developed for the Army over the last several years. The Army needs a leader who will stand up for soldiers, who recognizes war can get ugly and who won’t shy away from the tough issues. If Fanning is that type of person he’ll be embraced.”

Fanning’s historic appointment didn’t seem to cause a stir in the Army, either.

Phil Carter, an Iraq veteran and senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said, “My sense is that the Army is over this and has been over it for some time. The Army Cares whether you can shoot straight, not whether you are straight. The biggest problem the Army faces is finding its mission, relevance and purpose after the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. All of the services face it but the Army faces it most acutely.”

Fanning’s role as Army secretary would give him influence over the selection over the next generation of generals who will rebuild the service after the wars.

One big question for the Army is whether, in an era of tight budgets, it will return primarily to preparing for heavy combat missions against a big conventional military, like the Russians, or experiment with new formations that are better suited to training and working alongside indigenous partners. Since 2000, the Army has been forced to cancel virtually all of its major new weapons programs because they ran over budget or didn’t perform as expected. New battlefield equipment for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, like special armored vehicles designed to resist blasts from roadside bombs, had to be developed outside of the Army’s traditional procurement channels. The net result is that many of the Army’s most sophisticated helicopters, tanks and artillery cannons were developed more than 30 years ago.

“The Army is still living off equipment from the Reagan years” deLeon said. With budgets tight, Fanning’s challenge will be to upgrade and modernize the aging fleet using modern information technology.

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StMA’s post first appeared at Consortium of Defense Analysts.

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