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Secretary of Army discusses careers in government, transition of power

Eric Fanning, 22nd Secretary of the Army, left, discussed issues ranging from civilian leadership to a smooth transition of office. Credit: Summer Cartwright | Senior Lantern Reporter

Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning came to Ohio State on Wednesday to discuss careers in government as well as give insight on the current transition of power in the federal government.

Fanning, the 22nd secretary, took part in national security conversation with moderator Zachary Mears, the assistant vice president for national security programs and research at OSU.

Mears said he organized the event to communicate to students and faculty the values of public service, as well as how they can apply skillsets developed at OSU to careers in national security.

“I think (Fanning offers) a very unique perspective to students as they think about career opportunities, and how their skillsets best apply how to go about pursuing those in a way that generates diverse, professional options for them,” Mears said.

During the one-hour discussion, Fanning reflected on his “Midwestern roots,” and gave advice to students on how to find success working in government.

“I always tell people, do whatever you’re asked, to do it as well as you can and focus on those relationships because as I have more experience and more tenure — as I get older — I realize how true that is, because you keep encountering the same people,” Fanning said to the audience.

He said when he was appointed to his first position in the Obama administration, there were four others being sworn in with him. Of those, he knew them all from previous jobs.

Fanning also emphasized that not having a long-term plan is OK.

“This is the first job that makes everything that I’ve done up until now look like a career path.” Fanning said. “I always ask people I’m mentoring ‘What do you want to be in five years?’ and before they answer, I always say ‘It’s OK not to have an answer because I don’t think I’ve ever had an answer to that.’”

Prior to his current posting, Fanning held posts in the Air Force and Navy, as well as the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism.

His current responsibilities include managing the manpower, personnel, reserve affairs, installations, environmental issues and weapons systems of 1.4 million U.S. Army staffers, he said.

However, of that group, only 20 members are appointed, which helps Fanning feel secure during the current transition of power, he said.

“There is a tremendous continuity of service during our departure that even if there is a longer gap than normal, or a delay of getting our replacements in, uniformed military leadership is still there and provides a continuity,” he said. “But, even more so, the civilian leadership, the civilian career leadership provides continuity and has done so over many transitions.”Fanning said that regardless of when the transition occurs, the Department of Defense has a proud history of maintaining professionalism and focus when transitioning from office to office and will continue that tradition come Jan. 20.

“There’s no other department that needs to have a smoother transition than the Department of Defense.” Fanning said.

Some students were excited to listen to Fanning speak about possible future careers in public service.

“I was very interested to hear what Secretary Fanning had to say,” said Nicolas Renouil, a second-year in political science and economics. “Obviously, he’s been very influential in the Department of the Army, and a lot has changed over the past eight years of the administration he’s been on, and it was interesting to get his perspective on it, perspective on public service.”

Fanning said careers in government give people something that jobs outside of public service cannot: “a mission of great importance.”

“(It) is a mission that is pretty overwhelming, is pretty important, that is attractive to people who are exposed to it,” Fanning said. “You really have the opportunity to make a difference in a positive way for your country, your fellow citizens. And if you get that part right, that’s what attracts people and that’s what causes them to stay.”

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