WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps commandant and Army chief of staff told the Senate on Tuesday that they believe women should be required to sign up for the military draft now that they are being integrated into all combat positions.
Marine Gen. Robert Neller and Army Gen. Mark Milley testified there should no longer be an exemption for women in the Selective Service program, while Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the opening of combat roles has raised the need for a national debate.
The service leaders were called before the Senate Armed Services Committee for an oversight hearing on the ongoing effort to open about 225,000 combat military jobs — from boot camp to special operations units — to female troops.
“Every American that is physically qualified should register for the draft,” said Neller, who had requested but was denied exclusions of women in some Marine combat jobs.
Mabus, who has been a top supporter of women’s integration, was not so forceful with his recommendation on the draft, which has been used in the past to increase combat forces during wartime but has not been used since an all-volunteer force was created in the 1970s.
Men, who had in the past filled combat roles, are still required to register with Selective Service in case a draft is again needed. But now that women will serve in all combat jobs — following an order by Defense Secretary Ash Carter in December —the question of the draft is looming.
“This needs to be looked at as a national debate given the change,” Mabus said.
The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that women do not need to register because they do not fill critical combat occupation specialties, according to Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and the question is again working through the courts.
In December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard arguments in the case of National Coalition for Men vs. the Selective Service System on whether the draft should include women.
McCaskill said she believes it is time for women to be part of the draft.
“Part of me believes that asking women to register like we ask men to register would possible open up more recruits,” she said.
Registering with Selective Service could make them realize that a military career is an option, McCaskill said.
But as the Pentagon moves forward with women’s integration, some lawmakers on the Senate panel remain skeptical of the move, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
McCain pointed again to a Marine Corps integration study released last summer that found differences among women, specifically more injuries and lower performance in combat situations. He said it shows biological differences have implications on the battlefield.
“Rather than honestly confront these realities some have sought to minimize them,” McCain said.
The senator questioned the timeline of the military’s decision to open combat positions, saying it was made before the consequences were thoroughly studied.
But service leaders who testified — including Neller — told lawmakers they have accepted the integration order and are moving forward. The Pentagon hopes to have all plans in place by April.
Full integration will likely take longer. The Army will require up to three years to move women into all of its armor and field artillery occupational specialties, Milley said.
He said he has “absolutely no doubt in my mind” that some women can perform any job in the Army.