While having women in combat is still years away, top leaders in the Army and Marine Corps are backing an initiative to require females to register for the draft. Ever since U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter removed all gender-based restrictions on combat and infantry roles last year, both branches as well as the Navy have opened up numerous military jobs to any service member.
During a Capitol Hill hearing on Tuesday, Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley and Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Neller told senators that complete integration of many jobs would take years. According to them, there are still many logistical and cultural issues that need to be worked out.
As reported by NBC News, the new gender-based military rules allow women to work in approximately 220,000 jobs that were previously only open to men. Some of these positions include top spots in special operations units and the infantry.
One particular snag to overcome is the administration of the Selective Service System. Currently, the system requires all males between ages 18 and 26 to register for possible involuntary military service.
Women were previously excluded from combat roles by military policy and prior legal proceedings have put battlefield gender-related restrictions in place. With the exemption taken away, policymakers will now have to address changes to the draft system.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Jr. believes social questions regarding the drafting of women must be weighed against the reality of national security and military readiness. He suggested “a national debate” would help decide the issue.
Nonetheless, the military leaders were quite clear in their valuation.
“It’s my personal view in light of integration that every American physically qualified should register for the draft,” Neller said. Milley repeated his colleague by saying registration should be required by all capable men and women.
Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri supported the generals’ comments, but Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee spent much of the hearing condemning the removal of the gender limitations by Carter. Many questioned if job standards would be lowered to accommodate women in combat.
Mabus responded to the charge by saying it is both illegal and unacceptable to ease physical standards based on gender, indicating that “it would endanger not only the safety of Marines, but also the safety of our nation.” Quotas for positions have not been set according to both Milley and Neller.
“I am concerned that the department has gone about things backward. This consequential decision was made and mandated before the military services could study its implications, and before any implementation plans were devised to address the serious challenges raised in studies.”
The only female veteran on the Senate committee, Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, supported the gender-related initiatives. However, she stressed that standards must not be lowered just to bump the number of women in combat jobs.
“We need to ensure we don’t set up men or women for failure,” she said. “It’s clear we need to ensure that we’re taking into account the impact this could have on women’s health.”
At Tuesday’s hearing, Army officials pointed out that over 9,000 women have already received the Combat Action Badge for engagements during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. They also noted that more than 1,000 women in combat have been killed or wounded while fighting.
[Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images]