Just one month since opening combat roles to women, top US military officials have stated support for women’s inclusion in the draft.
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week, Army Chief of Staff General Mark A. Milley and Marine Corps Commandant General Robert B. Neller supported women’s incorporation into the Selective Service System, a mechanism that currently requires almost all male US citizens, no matter where they live, and most male immigrants living in the United States, to register to serve in the Armed Forces, or in an Alternative Service program, in the event of a national emergency.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) asked the military leaders whether Congress should look at opening up the Selective Service System to women. General Neller told the Senator it was his “personal view” that “every American who’s physically qualified should register for the draft.” After the hearing, Neller added, “It doesn’t mean you’re going to serve, but you go register.”
Notably, the United States has not operated a draft since 1973. The current US military service is an all-volunteer force, in which over 200,000 active-duty women serve. Even though a military draft has not operated for more than four decades, federal law still requires almost all men between 18-25 years old to register for the Selective Service.
Women have never been required to register for the Selective Service. In 1981, the Supreme Court ruled that excluding women from registration was constitutional, in part because women were excluded from combat roles and the purpose of registration was to prepare for a draft of combat troops. Now that women can serve in combat roles, women’s participation in the the Selective Service is once again in question.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced in December that the services would have until April 1 to integrate women into all roles. At the hearing, however, military leaders said that fully integrating women into combat jobs could take up to three years.