New Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has chosen former acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning to become his chief of staff and the first openly gay man to hold the post.
Fanning, currently the Air Force undersecretary, was a key member of the transition team along with Army Maj. Gen. Ron Davis that guided Carter through his Senate confirmation hearings to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
As chief of staff, Fanning will have major sway over Carter's schedule and access to his office. Davis was expected to become military adviser to Carter.
In his brief remarks after his swearing in ceremony at the White House on Tuesday, Carter noted the presence of Fanning and Davis in the small audience and thanked "Eric and Ron."
In response to the Fanning announcement, Chad Griffin, president of the gay rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Wednesday that few were as qualified as Fanning to serve as Carter's chief of staff.
"As an openly gay man, his appointment is not only breaking former barriers for the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) community, but it is further evidence of the tremendous progress towards fairness and equality that we continue to make within the Department of Defense."
Fanning, an Ohio native and 1990 graduate of Dartmouth College, has favored allowing openly transgender persons to serve in the military.
Fanning was acting Air Force secretary for about six months after the resignation of Michael B. Donley. Fanning became undersecretary when Deborah James was confirmed as Air Force secretary.
Fanning, 46, who has never served in uniform, previously was a deputy undersecretary of the Navy, an associate producer at CBS News in New York City, a public relations executive, and a congressional and White House staffer in the administration of former President Bill Clinton.
Fanning is also known for a self-deprecating sense of humor. Shortly after becoming acting Air Force secretary, Fanning spoke at a gay rights event at the Pentagon. To preface his remarks, Fanning said that he wanted to assure all the Air Force personnel present that he wasn't going order all the planes painted pink.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org