President Obama is ready to nominate Eric Fanning to become the next secretary of the Army, which would make him the first openly gay civilian to lead a branch of the U.S. military. Fanning, 47, has been acting undersecretary of the Army since June and has previously served as special assistant to Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Fanning has also served as Air Force undersecretary and deputy undersecretary of the Navy, to name a few of his positions at the Pentagon. He would still have to be confirmed by the Senate, but his nomination “reflects a major shift for the Pentagon, which only four years ago prevented openly gay troops from serving in the military,” notes the Washington Post.

Fanning’s nomination shows how Obama and Carter want the military to become more open to gay men and lesbians, an administration official tells the New York Times. Fanning, a former journalist for CBS News, will not have an easy job leading an Army that could be facing harsh budget cuts. Although it's unlikely that senators will object to Fanning’s qualifications for the job, many nominees have been held up by Republicans recently, points out the Wall Street Journal.

“Eric brings many years of proven experience and exceptional leadership to this new role,” Obama said in a written statement. “I am grateful for his commitment to our men and women in uniform, and I am confident he will help lead America’s soldiers with distinction. I look forward to working with Eric to keep our Army the very best in the world.”

Gay rights groups were quick to applaud Fanning’s nomination. “Considering the tremendous struggles that LGBT Americans have faced within the Department of Defense, Fanning’s nomination is deeply significant,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin.  “This is a sign of hope and a demonstration of continued progress towards fairness and equality in our nation’s armed forces.”