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With Trump Presidency, Out Gay Army Secretary Will Lose His Job

Eric Fanning and Vincent Viola
From left: Eric Fanning and Vincent Viola

Eric Fanning, the first openly gay man to head the Army, will be replaced by a wealthy businessman.

Donald Trump has nominated a billionaire businessman with no government experience to be secretary of the Army, meaning that Eric Fanning, the first openly gay man to hold the post, will be out of a job.

Trump today announced the nomination of Vincent Viola, founder of the electronic trading firm Virtu Financial and co-owner of the National Hockey League's Florida Panthers, to the Army post, Politico reports.

"I am proud to have such an incredibly accomplished and selfless individual as Vincent Viola as our secretary of the Army," Trump said in a prepared statement. "Whether it is his distinguished military service or highly impressive track record in the world of business, Vinnie has proved throughout his life that he knows how to be a leader and deliver major results in the face of any challenge."

Fanning will end up having served as Army secretary for less than a year. President Obama nominated him in September 2015, but the Senate did not confirm him until May of this year. Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas had held up the confirmation, not because Fanning is gay, but because of a dispute with the Obama administration over its plan to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a fellow Republican, convinced Roberts to lift the hold.

In the highest-ranking civilian position in the Army, Fanning has helped implement the end to the ban on transgender people in the military. Many had been serving while closeted. "So as far as I can tell, it's moving nice and smoothly," he said of the implementation in a recent Advocate interview.

Fanning brought ample government experience to the job. He had served on the staff of the House Armed Services Committee and as deputy undersecretary of the Navy, deputy director of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, undersecretary and then acting secretary of the Air Force (in 2013), deputy secretary of Defense (chief of staff), and acting undersecretary of the Army before becoming secretary. The Army secretary oversees 473,000 active-duty service members.

Viola, while not having worked in government, is a military veteran. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, trained as an Airborne Ranger infantry officer and served in the 101st Airborne Division, Reuters notes. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he helped found the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

Although many of Trump's nominees to Cabinet and other senior-level posts have been roundly criticized by Democrats, Viola has received praise from some, including New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who will be the Senate's minority leader when the body reconvenes. He tweeted the following:

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