By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (June 22, 2016) -- "When the shooting starts, when the battle is joined, it doesn't matter whether the Soldier next to you is black or white, Christian or Muslim, gay or straight, it only matters that he or she can do their job. That's a story as old as the Army itself," said Secretary of the Army Eric K. Fanning.
The Army's secretary spoke June 21 during the Department of State's annual lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex pride event.
Fanning told attendees at the event that the Army's and the military's strength now, and into the future, is dependent on diversity and on pulling on the talents and skills of a wide range of individuals. Gender, race, religion or sexuality, he said, should not be a factor in deciding who brings much-needed talent to the table.
"We've grown stronger as a military and as a nation as we've opened up opportunities for those who previously didn't have them," Fanning 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."
Facing the challenges now and in the future, such as those posed by Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and international terrorism, Fanning said, requires creative, adaptive, well-trained leaders, he said.
"It takes decades to grow and train such leaders, and we can ill afford to close ourselves off to anyone," he said. "Our national security will suffer if we allow bias or prejudice or ignorance to close doors and discourage great future leaders from serving."
Fanning said the Army and the Department of Defense, of which it is a part, have been moving toward greater diversity and inclusion for all Americans. One example of that, he said, is the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' back in 2011.
Another example of that, he said, is the recent opening of all positions in the services to women. Not only are all jobs open to men and women -- but the pay is the same as well.
"Just last year, we opened all remaining jobs in the military to women, including combat arms," Fanning said. "And we provide equal pay for equal work -- we pay privates and sergeants, lieutenants and generals equally, regardless of gender or race or sexual orientation."
Fanning said this increasing diversity and inclusion supports one of his goals as secretary -- bridging the divide between the Army and a diverse American public.
"The military is more powerful when the American people know that no matter what their background, religious beliefs, political views, sexual orientation, or gender identity, we serve and sacrifice on their behalf -- on behalf of this country we all love in order to protect all of our freedoms," he said.
Fanning has only served as secretary of the Army for a short time. He was initially nominated by President Barack Obama as secretary in September 2015. He had been serving at the time as acting undersecretary of the Army, and served as acting secretary from November 2015 until January 2016. His confirmation to the position was delayed, however, and he was not confirmed by the Senate and sworn in as the 22nd Secretary of the Army until last month.
During his brief time as secretary, Fanning said he has been "pleasantly" surprised by "how closely the core Army values that every Soldier is required to memorize and live by -- loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage -- could very well capture and characterize the LGBT community's struggle for equality. These values have served as a guide to Soldiers and leaders as we incorporate our diverse culture into the ranks. They are not slogans that are paid lip service but bedrock principles that dictate how Soldiers live, train and fight in order to succeed."
At the State Department event, Fanning said he initially planned to tout the Department of Defense's own pride month observance, themed "Celebration," but said in light of the recent shootings in Orlando, a celebratory mood would not be appropriate.
"It's hard to be in a mood for celebration after the horrific attack in Orlando less than two weeks ago," Fanning said.
On June 12, 2016, 49 patrons of the gay nightclub "Pulse" in Orlando, Florida, were killed by ISIS-sympathizer Omar Mateen.
"Like so many families in Orlando and across America, our Army family was deeply hurt and saddened by such tragic, senseless loss of life," Fanning said.
Fanning said another military veteran, Marine Corps veteran Imran Yousuf, was working at the nightclub that night, and is credited with saving the lives of up to 70 people.
"As horrific as this attack was, it wasn't an attack on Orlando; it wasn't an attack on the LGBT community; it was an attack on America, and our nation has come together, as one, to mourn those we lost, to help those who survived, and to comfort those left behind," Fanning said.
Fanning said that while much progress has been made in making the Army and the military more inclusive, more work must be done.
"As Army Secretary, I am confident that our intuition is committed to judging people not by where they came from or who they love, but by how they train and fight," Fanning said. "Only then can we truly say we have embraced and lived the Army values that are the bedrock of our profession."
The Department of State's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex pride event was sponsored by GLIFAA, an LGBTI group for foreign affairs agencies, and by the Department of State Office of Civil Rights.