Centerville grad named undersecretary of U.S. Army

A Centerville High School graduate who has been a rising star at the Pentagon moved to a new high-level civilian post.

Eric K. Fanning was named acting undersecretary of the Army, the No. 2 civilian job in the military branch, leaving his role Monday as chief of staff to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

Fanning has held a number of top jobs at the Pentagon, including acting secretary and undersecretary of the Air Force, and was a deputy undersecretary of the Navy.

“Eric Fanning has had a meteoric rise because he is personable, highly organized and diligent,” said Loren Thompson, a senior defense analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute and a defense industry consultant. “Fanning is considered to be a rising star in Democratic Party defense circles who is widely respected for his intelligence and his management skills.”

Thompson said the latest move may position Fanning to take over as secretary of the service branch, as Fanning works with Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh, who is set to retire in November.

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“Shifting Fanning into the undersecretary’s job just as the secretary has announced his departure seems like positioning to make him a service secretary,” Thompson said.

Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs, said Fanning spoke to a contingent of area leaders who flew to Washington., D.C., and met with the former Air Force official at an annual legislative fly-in.

“I know that our delegation has had a lot of contact with him and he gets high marks,” Gessel said.

The latest top job is a quick turnaround for Fanning. He became Carter’s chief of staff in February. While acting secretary of the Air Force, Fanning was noted as the highest-ranking openly gay civilian leader at the Pentagon.

One of the biggest challenges he dealt with in the Air Force was sequestration, or automatic defense budget cuts. In a November 2013 interview with this newspaper, he said the furlough of civil service workers was “the hardest and worst decision” of the prior fiscal year. The “real pernicious effect” of the indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts was the “lack of flexibility” on where spending would be slashed, he said then.

Congress has appropriated additional money to overseas contingency accounts, or wartime funding, to avoid a return of sequestration in the next fiscal year. President Barack Obama has reportedly threatened to veto the bill because of the budget tactic.

Fanning is a 1986 Centerville High School graduate. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 1990 at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. He was an associate producer at CBS News in New York. The former White House staffer and congressional aide also was a deputy director of the federal Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism.

“His deep well of knowledge and vast experience in the Pentagon, honed during his tenure as deputy undersecretary of the Navy and acting secretary of the Air Force, have been crucial assets for my front office,” Carter said.

Eric Rosenbach, touted as an architect of the Pentagon’s cyber strategy, was named to replace Fanning as Carter’s chief of staff.

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