Centerville grad nominated to lead Army fears plan for less troops

Video: Watch clips from Eric Fanning’s Senate testimony at

Eric Fanning, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be Secretary of the Army, says he’s concerned about scheduled cuts to the Army, worrying they will stretch an already-thin armed forces dealing with multiple threats overseas.

Fanning, a Centerville High School graduate and former acting secretary of the Air Force, made his comments Thursday after a long-awaited confirmation hearing on his nomination to replace former Army Secretary John McHugh.

Fanning has served as acting secretary of the Army since last fall. But he stepped down earlier this month after Sen. John McCain, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, argued that Fanning could not legally serve as acting secretary of the Army while also facing nomination.

Fanning, who if confirmed would be the first openly gay permanent secretary to lead a military service branch, stepped down from his acting secretary position because of McCain’s concerns, paving the way for his confirmation hearing.

But Fanning faces another hurdle as well: Sen Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, has placed a hold on his nomination. Roberts has halted the nomination because he is concerned that the remaining prisoners at Guantanamo Bay will be transferred to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. A Roberts spokeswoman Thursday said the hold remains in place.

Despite that, Fanning faced a largely happy panel, with multiple Democrats praising him as well-qualified.

Before serving as Acting Secretary of the Army, Fanning served in a variety of capacities around the Defense Department, including as acting secretary of the Air Force; undersecretary of the Air Force for two years, chief of staff to the Secretary of Defense and a former deputy undersecretary of the Navy.

“I have seen the Army from every seat at the table, including the Army’s,” he said Thursday.

Thursday, he faced questions about integrating women into the Army, whether women should be eligible for the Selective Service (he deferred to Defense Secretary Ash Carter but said “if we are focused on equal opportunity, part of that means equal responsibility”) and the number of contractors doing jobs that could be done by the Guard and Reserves.

He faced blunt questions from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on whether Gen. David Petraeus should have a star removed for giving his biographer unauthorized access to classified information. Fanning opposed taking away the star. “Great answer,” Graham replied.

Graham also grilled him whether there should be a time limit, a resource limit or a geographic limit on the fight against ISIL. No, Fanning replied to all questions.

“I look forward to voting for you as secretary of the Army,” Graham said, satisfied with those answers.

From McCain, Fanning faced questions about the war on ISIL. Asked by McCain if the U.S. was “winning” the war on radical Islamic terrorists, Fanning was cautious.

“I think it’s too early to tell,” he said, saying the U.S. was nonetheless “putting a whole lot of pressure” on ISIL. “A great deal of work needs to be done, and I do believe it’s a long fight.”

He said his job would be to ensure an Army that is “resilient, fully trained and properly equipped.”

And he urged reform, but said cuts to military bureaucracy needed to be done cautiously and consistently.

McCain urged the 47-year-old to take advantage of his time in office.

“Our nation’s soldiers do not need a secretary to mark time,” he said. “They need a strong secretary that recognizes there is much to be done and not a minute to be wasted.”

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