United States Air Force Secretary Michael Donley is retiring, leaving openly gay Eric Fanning, who has served as the undersecretary of the Air Force since his appointment in April 2013, to temporarily take over the role to serve as Acting Secretary.
Fanning is the highest ranking gay official in the Defense Department. The role of Secretary is the highest ranking civilian post in the Air Force.
Fanning’s career had been mostly political before becoming the Undersecretary. He sat on the board of directors for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund during 2004 to 2007, and has worked for CBS News, on Capitol Hill in the House Armed Services Committee, served in the Obama White House, and held two civilian management roles in the Department of the NAvy.
Republican Rep. Michael Turner of Ohio, who once opposed Fanning over the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” congratulated him on Friday.
“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 press release. “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.”
Fanning has discussed his experience as a gay man in service before and after the repeal of DADT.
“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 an interview with the Washington Blade. “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.”
Fanning is also a supporter of allowing transgender individuals to serve in the military, which is currently prohibited.
“Speaking personally, I always think it’s important to have non-discrimination policies codified to include everyone,” said Fanning. “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.”
As the Acting Secretary of the Air Force, Fanning will organize, train, equip and provide for the welfare of over 333,000 soldiers on active duty, 178,000 members of the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve as well as 182,000 civilians, according to Air Force Public Affairs. In addition, Fanning has overseen the Air Force’s annual budget of over $110 billon since he began in his official role as the 24th Under Secretary of the Air Force in April.