Combating sexism: Women and the military draft

(Michelle Krichevskaya / The DePaulia)
(Michelle Krichevskaya / The DePaulia)


Just months after the Defense Department lifted all gender-based restrictions on front-line combat units, a new debate over women’s role in the United States military has reared its head.

The House of Representatives Armed Services Committee approved a defense policy bill that would require American women ages 18 to 26 to register for the military draft. However, there is likely to be great debate on the proposal, as it closely passed 32-30 without the approval of its sponsor Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Republican and Iraq War veteran.

Requiring women to register for the military draft is more of a symbolic issue than anything because the U.S. is unlikely to restore selective service in the near future. The military draft was last used in 1973 for the Vietnam War, and Congress would have to pass a law to reinstate the draft before it could be implemented. The Defense Department has voiced approval on requiring women to register for the draft, but leaders have also made clear that a revival of selective service is unlikely.

Two top military officials, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, supported the move to add women to the draft during a Capital Hill hearing Feb. 2.

“It’s my personal view in light of integration that every American physically qualified should register for the draft,” Neller said.

Milley followed suit and said that “all eligible men and women” should be required by law to register for selective service.

At a February campaign event in New Hampshire, former presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz made clear he does not agree with Milley and Neller.

“We have had enough with political correctness, especially in the military,” Cruz said. “The idea that we would draft our daughters to forcibly bring them into the military and put them in close combat, I think, is wrong. It is immoral.”

Perhaps this claim would hold more merit if the word “daughters” were replaced with “citizens.” The notion of sending involuntary citizens to war is morally questionable, but for as long as the United States maintains the legality of the military draft women should be required to register just as men are.

James Bailey, 21, is currently serving the United States Marine Corps. He’s had significant tactile training, leading a fire team of three other Marines and working with a variety of weapons systems.

Bailey disagrees with Cruz’s stance that drafting women into the military is immoral.

“My opinion on women in the infantry is if she can carry me 75 yards and can stay next to me on a hike with a 90-pound pack on, by all means let (her) in,” Bailey said.

While Bailey admits it does not occur often, his only concern would be the possibility of women getting pregnant during combat deployment.

“In the infantry you have a fire team of four marines and three fire teams make a squad,” Bailey said. “That’s the way the entire infantry works and they train together their entire time at that unit which is usually a little over two years. If you take one marine out of that squad with (with a) female getting pregnant, you could throw off the balance and unit cohesion of the entire squad.”

Bailey’s concern does have merit. According to a 2008 study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), women serving in the military are 50 percent more likely to have an unplanned pregnancy than the general population. However, this is a problem that can be fixed easily. Tricare, the military healthcare program for service members, veterans and their families does cover birth control methods such as the pill, patches and IUDs, but military clinics are not required to stock them all.

This is a legitimate issue as a 2010 study by NCBI found that one-third of service women were unable to access their birth control of choice for deployment, 59 percent did not speak with a military provider about birth control prior to their deployment and 41 percent of women who needed refills for their medication found them difficult to obtain.

Women already make up a significant amount of the United States Armed Forces, with 15 percent of active troops and 23 percent of new military officers being women. In order to ensure they can fulfill their duties, the military must make providing their birth control of choice a priority.

Regardless the risk of an unplanned pregnancy, women have proven to be just as capable of serving in the United States military as men. Servicewomen have fought and died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the claim that women should not be required to register for the military draft due to some outdated idea of the role women serve in society is an insult to the servicewomen serving our country.

A recent graduate from Army Basic Combat Training, 18-year-old Taylor Dein is unsure of whether or not she supports selective service. She does, however, believe that in order for women to be considered true equals in the military, it’s only logical to require women who are physically qualified to register for the draft.

“In the past year or so, (the military has) been opening up a lot of (jobs) for women to choose that we haven’t been allowed to do in the past,” Dein said. “Mainly like artillery and jobs in those categories where all the men hold their tough-man pride. Women are also just recently allowed to go to Ranger school too. I’m pretty sure there are now three female Rangers so far. So I think that if the military is trying so hard to enforce equal opportunity all across the board now, then they might as well have all women register for the draft like men have to.”

If those like Cruz truly believe forcing “daughters” to join the military is immoral, sending American sons to war should be viewed as just the same. As long as the military draft exists in the United States, American men and women must carry equal responsibility for protecting and serving their country.