FORT JACKSON, S.C. — Newly minted Army Secretary Eric Fanning lauded trainers at Fort Jackson on Tuesday for their skill in integrating female soldiers into basic combat training, saying the Army has become a model for other military services as women take on more combat jobs.
"It's been going on for years, and in my opinion, very successfully," Fanning told reporters at the end of his seven-hour tour of Fort Jackson, the Army's largest training installation.
Fort Jackson trains about 54 percent of all male soldiers and about 65 percent of all its female soldiers, Fanning said. Fort Jackson began integrating women into training in the 1980s, fort spokesman Christopher Fletcher said.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter has ordered all service branches to allow women to compete for combat jobs, including the most demanding and difficult, such as the Army Delta units and Navy SEALs.
Three female West Point graduates last year became the first to pass the Army's highly demanding Ranger School, located at Fort Benning in Georgia. The course is a requirement for leading combat infantry or armor units into combat.
Fanning, 47, was sworn in as the Army's civilian leader on May 18 and is the first openly gay individual to lead one of the nation's military service branches. Fort Jackson is one of many Army installations he intends to visit in the coming months in the United States, Europe and the Pacific, said his spokesman, Lt. Col. S. Justin Platt.
Fanning said it is important for the Army to have female leaders and role models who have had experience in the field to help other women who join the service.
"Our biggest challenge is just making sure we have the leadership cadre in place. It will take us awhile to build that," he said.
Fanning told reporters he had a chance to see the installation's drill sergeant school, where the service's tough-as-nails instructors are taught, and to talk over lunch with soldiers. Earlier in the day, he wished some brand-new Army soldiers well Tuesday before he watched them plow through an obstacle course as part of their basic combat training.
The secretary chatted and shook hands with several young soldiers while they stood in line waiting to clamber over five wooden obstacle walls.
At a firing range under the blazing sun, Fanning donned metal ear protectors and received instructions on how to shoot the M-4 rifle all soldiers must learn to use.
Fort Jackson is expected to train more than 45,000 men and women in basic combat this year. Another 26,000 come to the post for advanced schooling as drill sergeants, chaplains, and other support forces.
Fanning is a native of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Over the past 20 years, he has held a number of senior leadership positions in the Army, Air Force and Navy and has worked closely with Defense Secretary Carter.