In Washington: Lawmakers introduce bill to make women register for draft
The prospect for the first time in American history women might have to register for the draft gained credence when the top generals of the Army and the Marine Corps testified to Congress this month with calls to do just that and U.S. House legislation, if enacted, would make it law.
Oakwood High School student Sophia Eviston is against requiring women to register, arguing people should be able to choose. She also wondered whether mixed-gender units would work effectively.
“I don’t think the military is very good for women because they can get mistreated,” she said. “And wouldn’t the male soldiers treat them differently when they were fighting?”
Congress, women and the draft
Two veterans in Congress say America should have a fuller discussion about women in ground combat roles and calls to require women to register for the draft. U.S. Reps. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a Marine veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, a former Navy SEAL in Iraq, introduced the “Draft America’s Daughters Act” last week in the House.
For decades, males between the ages of 18 to 25 have had to register with the Selective Service System, but women have been excluded. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 ruling, determined in 1981 since women were banned from serving in many combat roles, they should not be compelled to register. The United States has not drafted men into the military since the Vietnam War.
Today, women serve in combat roles from fighter pilots to battlefield medics.
Hunter and Zinke criticized Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s decision in December to lift the exclusion on women in combat roles in infantry, artillery, armored and Special Forces units.
“It’s wrong and irresponsible to make wholesale changes to the way America fights its wars without the American people having a say on whether their daughters and sisters will be on the front lines of combat,” Hunter said in a statement. “If this Administration wants to send 18-20 year old women into combat, to serve and fight on the front lines, then the American people deserve to have this discussion through their elected representatives.”
Hunter said he might vote against his own bill.
A White House spokesman deferred comment on the legislation to the Defense Department.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton and a long-time member of the House Armed Services Committee, has not commented on his position on the Pentagon opening all ground combat roles to women or the prospect of requiring women to register for the draft. Turner is chairman of the House Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee.
This newspaper made repeated requests to Turner’s office about the issue of women in ground combat roles and the draft, but spokeswoman Lauren O’Toole said the congressman was unavailable to comment.
In a statement to this newspaper, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the Defense Department’s “decision to allow the many qualified women of our armed forces to serve in ground combat roles recognizes their strength and ability. It’s an honor to serve your country in any capacity and I welcome having a discussion with my colleagues on expanding Selective Service registration.”
Christyn Lansing, a spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio,said the senator “continues to believe that our military commanders are in the best position to make those decisions.”
The focus on women in ground combat and the draft could spark a nationwide conversation about the day-to-day realities of war unseen by the public, said Natalie F. Hudson, director of the human rights studies program at the University of Dayton and an associate professor of political science.
“I think the question about women being required to register for the draft really allows society to ask questions about stereotypes about women and combat and women in society more broadly,” she said in an interview.
“The truth is women have been breaking these stereotypes for years,” she said, particularly in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Still, as the mother of three daughters and a son, all under the age of 10, Hudson said she was “anxious” and “concerned” about their names in the Selective Service System when they become young adults.
“I would be (will be) anxious, concerned and critical for both my son and daughters being forced to register,” she said in an email. “The notion of requiring young men or women to fight, to be part of the armed forces is one that needs to be questioned, regardless of gender. There should be alternatives to men and women to serve our country that don’t requiring the use of deadly force. If nothing else, I hope this recent calling for women to register sparks a larger national debate about need and ethics of a draft for both sexes.”
Retired Air Force Col. Cassie B. Barlow, former commander of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, said lifting the ban on women in ground combat roles goes along with females registering for the draft. “That generally rounds out complete equality for women,” she said.
“The key is that we can’t forget is that we’re not changing the standard” to pass military training, she added. “So infantry training is still infantry training and (Army) Ranger training is still Ranger training.” For the first time ever, three female Army soldiers completed arduous Army Ranger training last year.
Alfred E. Wilson, 66, of Springfield, a disabled Vietnam veteran who was shot in the leg and broke his back under fire in combat, said women should have to sign up as men do.
“I’ve had to, why shouldn’t they,” the former Marine said. “We got them in the police department, we got them in the fire department. If they think they can do the same job as a man they should be drafted like a man.”
A Marine Corps study on an integrated male and female ground combat unit reported women in the group were injured at double the rate men were and the integrated unit didn’t perform as well as all-male units in shooting accuracy and carrying weight on the battlefield, media reports said.
Critics have called the survey flawed.
“Numerous researchers have questioned the methodology of that report,” Hudson said. “I would say that the findings from that study are weak at best if not problematic.”
Women soldiers in Iraq
In Iraq, retired Army Col. Peter Mansoor, a former brigade commander in an armored division, said female soldiers assigned to quartermaster units were at times placed with infantry and armored units on combat patrols. Women were needed on missions that encountered Iraqi females “because the cultural norm in Iraq is that females will only deal with females,” he said.
American female soldiers “did everything but drive tanks and (carry) ruck sacks,” he said.
“We didn’t have any issues with women performing their duties when operating with combat units,” he said. “They were full members of the team. Now, having said that, we weren’t in the kind of combat operations the United States experienced in say, the jungles of Vietnam, the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific in World War II. We could go back to forward operating bases after missions were over and things were, in that sense, not as physically difficult as combat can be in different circumstances.”
Mansoor said he expected a small number of women to qualify for physically grueling assignments. Women make up about 15 percent of the military today.
“…They’re still going to be assessed once they’re drafted for what role they’re most suited for and I think what we’ll find is that a very small number of women will actually qualify to serve in the combat arms,” he said.
The Air Force has opened the last seven “battlefield” airmen specialties that had been closed to women.
According to the Defense Department, 50 women died in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and 110 females died in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Should gender matter in the draft?
Ally Ross, an 18-year-old Oakwood resident, said now that women are eligible for combat roles, they should register for conscription.
“It seems almost silly that we wouldn’t have to register if we’ve accepted that there’s this kind of equality,” Ross said, emphasizing that women should only be in combat roles if they meet existing standards.
Given that there has been no draft in the United States since the early 1970s, Ross said she can’t see the nation going through the process anytime soon.
“But if we are in a situation where we do need a draft, where a voluntary military isn’t enough, I would think we would want all the talent we could have (available),” Ross said. “And there are going to be cases where women do bring something that a men-only group wouldn’t.”
Seventeen-year-old Aaron Rhoton of Huber Heights plans to register for the draft when he reaches his 18th birthday, but he doesn’t want his older sister to face the same requirement.
“I feel like as a man it’s our job to protect women and it seems kind of strange if we are fighting for someone who is right next to us” in combat, he said. “If my sister got put in the draft, I’d be like, no, no, no. I’ll go.”
Katie J. Swiontek, 23, a Wright State University student and an Air Force reservist, said her female peers should register. “I think it would be a good thing because the military is already a diverse environment and it would diversify it even more.”
Brianna Croom, 20, of Dayton, said while she would not want to be required to register herself, if needed women should sign up for the draft. “I think they should only because it’s going to help out,” the Dayton woman said.
Billy Martin, 18, of Dayton, didn’t agree.
“I don’t have a problem with women in the military,” he said. “It’s not about a gender thing. It’s about a volunteer thing.”