Taste of equality: Army, Marines chiefs say women should register for draft

© Andrew Burton
Female Americans should be legally required to register for the draft at age 18, the chiefs of the US Army and the Marine Corps told lawmakers for the first time since the Pentagon changed the rules of allowing women in combat.

“Every American who's physically qualified should register for the draft,” General Robert Neller, commandant of the US Marine Corps, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

“I think that all eligible and qualified men and women should register for the draft,” added General Mark Milley, Army Chief of Staff.

The generals were testifying alongside Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and acting Secretary of the Army Patrick Murphy on how to implement the December decision by the Obama administration to open all roles in the military to women, including combat postings.

Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, brought up the issue and argued that opening the registration to women would encourage them to think about a career in the military.

“I think it's the right thing going forward,” McCaskill said, according to The Hill.

While the generals were steadfastly in favor, Murphy and Mabus were more circumspect, saying only that they would like to see a national debate about registering women.

The White House has floated ideas about revising the draft requirements since the December announcement, but has not committed to any specific course. This is the first time any military officials have come out in favor of the change.

The first Selective Service Act was introduced in 1917 to raise troops for the US entry into WW1 after voluntary enlistments were slow to materialize. Another draft law was enacted in 1940 for WW2.

Fueled by the resentment of the draft during the Vietnam War, Selective Service registration was abolished by President Gerald Ford in 1975, but reinstated under the Carter administration in 1980. In all cases, the law’s requirements have applied to men only.

The Military Selective Service Act currently requires men to register within 30 days of their 18th birthday and remain in the Selective Service System until their 26th birthday. They could be called in for compulsory military service in a time of war. Not complying could result in a $250,000 fine and denial of federal jobs or government benefits.

There are currently two discrimination lawsuits against the Selective Service System working their way through US courts. The National Coalition for Men says it is unfair to men that women don't have to register. Meanwhile, a New Jersey teenager has complained that not being allowed to register is discrimination.

The heads of the US armed services told lawmakers that they will not lower standards in order to bring women into the more demanding military specialties. It will take up to three years before the combat posts are truly integrated, they told the Senate Armed Services Committee.