WASHINGTON — Confirmed by the Senate in April as the undersecretary of the Air Force, Eric Fanning became the civilian head of the Air Force on Friday when his boss, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, retired.
Fanning, who is gay, is the highest-ranking out LGBT person in the Defense Department. President Obama is yet to nominate Donley's replacement, so Fanning should be serving in the dual roles for a while.
In a recent interview with The Washington Blade, Fanning talked about serving, even as a civilian, in the Pentagon during the first two years of the Obama administration, before the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" had passed Congress.
"It was very difficult when we were getting to the end of the first two years and it wasn't clear if we were going to be able to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" Fanning said in the interview. "I didn't know what I was going to do if we didn't get the repeal through because some people couldn't work because they were openly gay or lesbian."
Politics does make strange bedfellows, though, and Republican Rep. Michael Turner of Ohio — who opposed and voted against the repeal in 2010 — praised the hometown-raised Fanning Friday, noting his attendance at a local high school — and the hometown Air Force base.
"I'd like to congratulate Eric Fanning on becoming Acting Secretary of the Air Force. In that capacity he will lead our Airmen and civilian Air Force employees who are dedicated to the defense of this nation," Turner said in a statement. "Our community is truly dedicated to serving this nation. I look forward to working with him in support of the Air Force and their mission at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base."
In the Blade interview, Fanning also said he would go further, personally, than the Pentagon has thus far in terms of including sexual orientation in the military's formal nondiscrimination policy.
"Speaking personally, I always think it's important to have non-discrimination policies codified to include everyone," Fanning said in the interview. "The military, because it has a chain of command, has a different attitude about this and a different way to try to go about protecting airmen, sailors, soldiers, Marines — but Eric Fanning? Yes. I personally like to see these things in writing and codified."
The Blade also reported that Fanning supports allowing out transgender people to serve in the military. Although there is no law banning out transgender service, military regulations prohibit it currently.
According to Fanning's Defense Department biography:
He was confirmed as the 24th Under Secretary of the Air Force on April 18, 2013, and began to serve in the additional role of Acting Secretary of the Air Force June 21, 2013. He is responsible for the affairs of the Department of the Air Force, including the organizing, training, equipping and providing for the welfare of its more than 333,000 men and women on active duty, 178,000 members of the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve, 182,000 civilians, and their families. He also oversees the Air Force's annual budget of more than $110 billion.