The make-up of the military
May 30, 2016
Congress is on the brink of altering a century-old precedent requiring only men to register for the military draft and the potential policy change is found inside a lengthy piece of legislation about military funding.
The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes an amendment that, if passed, would require women ages 18 to 26 to register for the Selective Service, also known as the military draft.
Currently, the Selective Service does not require women to register for the draft, but achievements of women in the military over the past several months have motivated lawmakers to revisit the issue.
In particular, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s decision last year to allow women to serve in all combat positions of the military played a large role in the advancement of the idea.
Donna McAleer, a West Point graduate and former Army police officer who lives in the Snyderville Basin, serves on the Defense Advisory Committee for Women in the Service, which is a board that advises the Defense Department about issues involving women in the military. She said it is the obvious time to make the change.
"With equal rights comes equal responsibility, and women have just as much stake in defending the republic and serving in the military as men do," she said. "Now that all those positions are open and there are no more restrictions, there really is no reason not to open up the Selective Service to women, but it requires an act of Congress."
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Congress has yet to decide on the issue. The House of Representatives passed the legislation last week without the amendment, but it is still included in the version of the bill that is before the Senate.
How the amendment was removed from one version of the bill but not the other is a long story.
In April, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., proposed the amendment to the House Armed Services Committee, then voted against his own policy change.
Hunter’s amendment was meant to start a conversation about women in the military, as he was opposed to the defense secretary’s decision, but instead the House committee voted to keep the amendment.
The Senate Armed Services Committee then adopted the provision into its version of the bill this month, but not without some resistance. Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican, voted against the bill in committee, saying the change was too major to be included in a must-pass bill like the NDAA.
"No matter what side of the issue you are on, I would hope that both sides would want a full, open and honest discussion of this issue," Lee said. "I just don’t think we can do that in the span of less than a week in the context of a 1,000-plus page defense authorization bill. Our sons and daughters deserve more."
Despite the length of the bill, McAleer said the NDAA is the only logical place for the policy change to go.
"We’ve been a nation at war for a number of years," she said. "The global connection and environment will only continue to get more challenging, and the conflicts probably may be shorter in duration but higher in intensity, and it is our equal responsibility to serve."
Lee was one of the votes against the bill in committee and it is now waiting to be heard on the Senate floor, amendment included.
In the version of the bill that passed the House last week, Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, removed the language requiring women to register for the draft in favor of wording calling for a survey of whether the draft is necessary at all.
The military has not used Selective Service since 1973, but McAleer said, even unused, the draft represents an important contingency plan for the military.
According to McAleer, of the 35 million men who are required to register for the Selective Service, only 23 percent would actually be eligible for military service. The rest wouldn’t meet the educational, mental or physical standards to serve.
That percentage of eligible recruits drops by about 1 percent a year, McAleer said. If it hits 17 percent, the military would no longer be able to sustain a volunteer force. That’s why, she said, women should be included in the draft.
"All Americans need to be reminded of their responsibilities to defend our nation," she said. "[The draft] reinforces a powerful and needed message of national commitment not only to our country but to our foes. As we continue to make decisions and have an inclusive workforce with access to the widest available talent pool, women should be part of that."
1917: First version of Selective Service law enacted
1948: Women’s Armed Services Integration Act allows women to serve in the military in non-combat positions.
1973: Military draft is abolished and replaced with volunteer service.
1980: President re-establishes Selective Service registration for men as a contingency plan.
1981: Supreme Court rules in Rostker v. Goldberg that restricting the draft to men was constitutional based on combat restrictions for women.
1994: Ground Combat Exclusion Policy specifies that women can’t serve in any position that involved or supported direct ground combat.
2013: Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifts the ground combat exclusion policy and enacts the Women in Service Review of all military branches.
August 2015: Two women become the first in history to graduate from Army Ranger School.
December 2015: Defense Secretary Ashton Carter allows women to serve in all combat positions, opening up 220,000 military jobs to females.
February 2016: Rep. Duncan Hunter proposes Draft America’s Daughters Act of 2016 as a response to the opening of all combat positions.
April 2016: The House Armed Services Committee adopts Hunter’s act as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.
May 2016: Senate Armed Services Committee passes 2017 NDAA with women in the Selective Service amendment included, the bill moves to the Senate floor.
May 2016: House Rules Committee removes language requiring women to register for the draft from House version of the 2017 NDAA, the bill passes the House.