Expanded combat role for women raises draft question

By ANDREW MCGINN | Springfield News-Sun, Ohio | Published: July 5, 2013

The Pentagon this week commemorated the 40th anniversary of its all-volunteer force, which soon will allow women into the last remaining combat roles off-limits to them.

But, now that women have been cleared to join everything from the infantry to SEAL teams by 2016, some wonder if they should also have to register for the draft like men.

It’s a big what-if — the Army hasn’t had a draftee show up for boot camp since June 30, 1973, when the last American male entered the service via conscription.

A national poll released June 19 by Florida-based CapitalSoup.com to mark the anniversary found that 59 percent of Americans are in favor of including women in a future draft. The poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, found that support is strongest among Democrats, women and people ages 18 to 34.

It’s not the first time Americans have voiced support for the change.

Back in 1992, about the time President Bill Clinton broached the subject, a survey of 1,500 adults found that 52 percent were in favor of women being drafted.

At the time, though, women were still barred from ground combat, and would be until the Pentagon’s announcement this past January that it was lifting all restrictions.

“If they’re going to serve in the military, they might as well be eligible for the draft,” reasoned Lew Waters, a Springfield resident who was wounded twice over Europe as a B-17 tail-gunner during World War II.

Waters isn’t in favor of allowing women into combat to begin with, fearing they’d be mistreated if captured, but concedes, “It’s a different world now.”

He doesn’t foresee a time when a military draft would be reinstated, although he sees the benefits of it as well.

“In a way, that’s worked against us in Afghanistan,” Waters said. “Those guys are having to serve a number of tours over and over.”

Kristi Schweers, a 19-year-old Springfield resident who leaves this summer for Marine Corps boot camp, is a proponent of the all-volunteer military.

“Not everybody is military material,” Schweers said. “Not everyone is ready and willing to die.”

She doesn’t like the idea of anyone, male or female, being drafted, but thinks women are more than up to the challenge of fighting in the toughest of combat units.

“When it comes down to it,” she said, “the strength we have is insane. We give birth. C’mon, you can’t top that.”

The question of requiring women to register with the Selective Service System within 30 days of their 18th birthday has been around for as long as the requirement for men has been in place.

In 1980, with Soviet forces descending on Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter reactivated registration for men in the event that a military draft would be needed. Challenged legally by several men, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the men-only law in 1981 on the basis that the military didn’t allow women on the front lines.

Selective Service — the federal agency that has a $22 million annual budget to plan for a future conflict in which the Pentagon finds itself in need of more personnel — has the names and addresses of 15.8 million men ages 18 to 25 currently on file.

For what it’s worth, Selective Service didn’t learn of the Pentagon’s recent decision to lift the combat ban on women until they saw it in the media like everyone else, said Pat Schuback, a spokesman for the agency.

“They kept a pretty good secret,” Schuback said.

Schuback told the Springfield News-Sun it would cost about $6 million to begin registering women for a draft.

“The process is still the same,” he said.

Primarily, the agency would need to reprint all literature and get the word out.

“Anything that says men on it would need to say men and women,” Schuback said.

Selective Service doesn’t have an official opinion on the matter, but Schuback did, however, make a minor plea.

“Hopefully,” he said, “we get the money to go along with any decision.”

It would require an act of Congress to begin including women.

“Selective Service requirements are determined by law, and we won’t speculate on any changes to law,” Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman, wrote in a recent email.

Dick Flahavan, associate director for public and intergovernmental affairs at Selective Service, said there’s “no real congressional interest in including females,” despite the fact that the service branches and U.S. Special Operations Command on June 18 released their plans for implementing women into previously closed positions.

He cited word that the House Armed Services Committee intended to include an amendment to its 2014 defense budget prohibiting Selective Service from registering or drafting women.

“It is difficult to see women being included absent a necessary military reason,” Flahavan wrote in an email.

Randy Ark, of Springfield, was among the 228,263 American men drafted in 1967 during the Vietnam War. In all, more than 1.8 million men were drafted between 1964 and 1973.

Even though he was drafted, he ended up enlisting in the Army in order to have more of a say over his direction, serving as a combat medic in Vietnam.

“If I were in the service,” Ark said, “I wouldn’t want a woman there who does not want to be there.”

He said he would make it optional for women to register for the draft.

Ark said his comments might come off as chauvinistic, but they’re grounded in decades of societal norms.

“We’re raised that way,” he said. “It’s ingrained. You don’t beat up on a woman. You grow up with this guy-girl thing.”

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Audrey Griffith of Castlerock, Colo., points out an area of interest during a force protection drill to Spc. Heidi Gerke along the perimeter of Forward Operating Base Hadrian in Deh Rawud, Afghanistan, March 18, 2013. Both women are members of the 92nd Engineer Battalion from Fort Stewart, Ga.


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