Top Pentagon Leaders Welcome New Secretary of the Army

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter congratulates Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning at his arrival ceremony, June 20, 2016. (DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Tim D. Godbee)
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter congratulates Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning at his arrival ceremony, June 20, 2016. (DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Tim D. Godbee)

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley today welcomed the Army's new secretary into his job today at a ceremony in Arlington, Virginia.

Fanning was sworn in May 19 as the civilian head of the Army. He is the first openly gay person to lead one of the nation's military service branches.

The Army's 3rd Infantry Regiment, known as the Old Guard, stood in formation on Summerall Field at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall near the Pentagon as Carter and Milley spoke of Fanning's strengths as a leader.

"Secretary Fanning, it is an honor to formally welcome you," Carter said. "It has been a privilege for me to work alongside Eric Fanning for many years and watch him develop into one of our country's most knowledgeable, dedicated and experienced public servants.

"I have seen firsthand why he is one of this administration's most trusted and capable appointees and one of the Pentagon's most dependable civilian leaders."

Fanning served as Carter's chief of staff when he first became secretary of defense. The graduate of Dartmouth College also previously served as acting Air Force Secretary as well as deputy undersecretary of the Navy.

"That gives him a unique perspective on the pivotal connections that bind our joint force. … Secretary Fanning understands the full spectrum of responsibilities and opportunities that we face as a 21st Century military," Carter said.

Milley described Fanning as a "man of immense personal courage and integrity."

"Today is a very special day as we recognize an officially arrived secretary of the Army Eric Fanning," Milley said.

Milley joked that it took six months for Congress to confirm Fanning as Army secretary, relating the story of how the second Continental Congress on 10 May 1775 created "the United States Army, the continental Army from companies of Pennsylvania rifleman. And only five weeks later that Army was real."

"In only five weeks they created an Army, but it took six months to confirm my secretary."

Much of the delay had to do with Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, placing a "hold" on Fanning's nomination so he could get assurances from the Defense Department and the Obama administration that prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval base will not be housed in the future at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Roberts told Politico's Morning Defense that his blocking of Fanning's nomination solely involved the Guantanamo issue, and was not about Fanning's sexual orientation.

Fanning's nomination had also been delayed by demands from Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and the panel's chairman, for un-redacted Defense Department emails on the Fanning appointment. McCain said he had received the emails and there was nothing in them to delay further the committee's vote.

Earlier, McCain and others on the panel had charged that President Barack Obama violated the little-used Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 by putting Fanning's name forward.

Fanning had been serving as acting Army Secretary since the retirement last year of former Army Secretary John McHugh. McCain said that the Vacancies Act prohibited anyone serving in an "acting" post from getting the full-time job.

To get around McCain's complaint, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter shuffled top Army management posts. Fanning resigned as acting Army secretary. Patrick Murphy, a Pennsylvania Democrat who served in the House from 2007 to 2011 and had been nominated to become Army undersecretary, was named acting secretary until Fanning could get a hearing.

At the nomination hearing in April, McCain appeared to be satisfied with Fanning's compliance. "In my opinion, his resignation has cured the President's violation of the law," McCain said.

In his testimony and in response to questions, Fanning shared the concerns of McCain and other senators on both sides of the aisle on the problems faced by the Army in paring troop strength to 450,000 soldiers and possibly 420,000 soldiers, if mandated budget cuts under spending caps known as sequestration return.

Milley told the audience he has complete confidence in Fanning's ability to lead the Army.

"I can speak for all of us in uniform that we are absolutely thrilled to have you aboard," he said. "Eric Fanning is an incredible professional; he is completely committed to our Army, both the soldiers and the families.

"As an Army, we could not be luckier to and more proud of our new secretary."

Fanning said there is work to be done in the future, emphasizing the need to end sexual assault and suicide.

"We must ensure that everybody has access to behavioral health and that we eliminate the stigma attached with seeking help," Fanning said.

Soldiers "must know that we are taking care of their families when they are away from home. We must make sure that they are trained for the full range of contingencies not just the kind of fighting we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to make sure that they are equipped in a way that always maintains a decisive advantage over any adversary."

Fanning also spoke of the need to make the Army a more diverse force.

"Finally we must continue to open up opportunities to those who meet the standards but were previously denied the opportunity to serve," he said.

"By leveraging diversity and creating an inclusive environment in which all are valued, we engender opportunities for people to be part of the greatest mission there is – defending our nation's security."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com

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