Secretary of the Army, Eric K. Fanning lauded Fort Jackson's lead in gender integrated training and its relations with the surrounding community during his first visit June 7 to the post since being sworn in May 18.

"This is the end of my third week as Secretary of the Army but only the second trip I have taken," Fanning said. "I came here specifically because of how important Fort Jackson is to the Army -- training over 54 percent of our Soldiers every year, also because of the leadership role that Fort Jackson plays in gender integrated training and successfully leading the way for the entire military in that regard."

Fanning is the first Secretary of the Army to serve as a senior executive in all three military departments of the Department of Defense and the first executive to have worked directly for each service secretary and the Secretary of Defense.

He added the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps "come here to see how we have been doing this since 1972."

The strong bond between Fort Jackson and Columbia, South Carolina also drew his attention.

"I am always happy to see when there is a strong relationship between installation and the community around it," he said during the visit. "But it is clear just from this visit today
how incredibly strong that is in particular here between Columbia, Fort Jackson and the state of South Carolina. It is much appreciated and it doesn't go unnoticed when making decisions back in
Washington."

Some of those decisions were to increase the amount of training battalions on Fort Jackson.

Currently there are 10 training battalions with another scheduled to be added later this year.

Calling Fort Jackson a "premier installation," Fanning said the increase enables the Army to "be prepared for the future. In case we are asked to surge we wanted to stand up some extra capabilities."

"We are about to celebrate the 100th anniversary of this installation which is a pretty remarkable thing when you think about how many Soldiers were trained here from World War I to today. As I said earlier, we train 54 percent of our Soldiers every year; 65 percent of our female Soldiers come
through here."

The Army has spent years integrated its forces, he said.

"Just in the Army alone 90,000 positions in the last three years" have opened up in the Army.

"Now is just the tail end, the very end, of something that has been going on for years (and in my view) very successfully. In part, I do think that is because of Army leadership and the leadership of this installation, Fort Jackson has been doing gender integrated training for so long, so successfully. So it is making it very easy for us to finish opening up all the other positions to female Soldiers."

He said, the main hurdle the Army will face for further gender integration will be setting the
leadership in place.

"I think the biggest challenge we have as we open up now all slots to women who meet the
requirements is to ensure we have the leadership cadre in place as they go through," he added.
"It will take us a while to build that since we just recently opened a lot of these positions."

Fanning has long been an advocate for ensuring Soldiers and their Families have the proper resources for facilities, training and quality of life.

"We have the strongest Army the world has ever known right now," he said. "What is clear
is that we are running this Army hard. We are deploying Soldiers. It is hard on Families, it's
hard on those who are left back on the base. In this budget environment, with the inconsistencies
from year to year of what we are going to get, there are places you go to get money quickly
if you are trying to cut. One of those is facilities sustainment -- so we have a lot buildings,
including here at Fort Jackson that we haven't been investing the money in we should have to
maintain them or invest in new facilities."

During his trip, Fanning visited Soldiers at the rifle range, spoke with Soldiers in Training
at the 120th Adjutant General Battalion (Replacement), and witnessed how the Occupational
Physical Assessment Test will be implemented.

"My expectations when visiting an installation are always high," he said. "It's great to get
out of the Pentagon, to get out of Washington. But I will say that today definitely exceeded my
expectations. I got the opportunity to see young Americans straight off the bus, literally minutes
into their basic training, which is an exciting thing to see -- to realize we have that continual
loop of people willing to volunteer and serve the nation."

The drill sergeants and Soldiers Fanning met on his trip were blown away by the experience.

"It means a lot that someone from higher echelon of brass is coming out to check out our training -- to check on integration of females in the Army," said Staff Sgt. Angela Dean, a drill sergeant with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment and San Bernardino, California
native. "Fort Jackson has been doing that since the 1970s when we integrated female drill sergeants. We actually have a lot of stronger females than people would think every cycle. This cycle we have one female that will definitely take our high APFT (award), so it's definitely good
now that we're sending females to Fort Benning (to join the) infantry and Ranger Regiment."

One of the Soldiers in Training he met was so nervous he could hardly speak.

Talking with the Secretary "was definitely something to remember -- it was a once in a lifetime thing I think," said Hawaii native, Pvt. Jaxon Nobriga, with Bravo Co., 2-39th.

Staff Sgt. Christopher Demaria, a drill sergeant with Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, who coached Fanning during a trip to the rifle range was also impressed by the secretary.

"I love that (Secretary Fanning) came out here," he said. "He's evaluating the Army and its budget and I think it's absolutely wonderful the rotations that he's been making base to base, evaluating us and seeing what he can improve and actually getting down with the Soldiers in his newly appointed position. I'm really glad he came out here and shot and didn't just stand around and watch."

Fanning shot at the rifle range and talked to Soldiers whenever he had the chance.