FORT JACKSON, S.C. (AP) — Newly minted Army Secretary Eric Fanning wished some brand-new Army soldiers well Tuesday before he watched them plow through an obstacle course as part of their basic combat training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Fanning was sworn in as the Army's civilian leader on May 18 and is the first openly gay individual to lead one of the nation's military service branches. He was on his first-ever visit to Fort Jackson, the Army's largest basic-training base.
The 47-year-old secretary chatted and shook hands with several young soldiers while they stood in line waiting to clamber over five wooden obstacle walls.
"What surprised you the most?" Fanning asked one young soldier about the training.
"The early wake-ups, sir," replied Pvt. Dustin Green, 21, of Columbus, Ohio. "Earliest has been 4:30 a.m., 5 o'clock."
"How many times have you gone over the wall this morning?" he asked one young female soldier. "A lot!" she replied. But the young female soldier became so tongue-tied by all the attention, she couldn't reply when Fanning asked her what career path she had chosen in the Army.
"Well, good luck!" Fanning went on to tell several of the camouflaged-clad soldiers as he pumped their hands.
The secretary stopped to view soldiers clambering up a tall, wooden tower and through several obstacles that required them to use both ropes and to help one another get over the wooden structures.
At a firing range under the blazing sun, Fanning donned metal ear protectors and received instructions on how to shoot the M-4 rifle all soldiers must learn to use.
Fanning is on the first of many stops he intends to make in the coming months as he visits Army installations in the United States, Europe and the Pacific, said his spokesman, Lt. Col. S. Justin Platt.
Fort Jackson is expected to train more than 45,000 men and women in basic combat this year. Another 26,000 come to the post for advanced schooling as drill sergeants, chaplains, and other support forces.
The 47-year-old Fanning is a native of Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Over the past 20 years, he has held a number of senior leadership positions in the Army, Air Force and Navy and has worked closely with Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
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