Listen up ladies! Uncle Sam might want you too
By Richard Lardner, AP, Feb 25, 2013
WASHINGTON (AP)—Tennnnnn-hut, ladies! The next time Uncle Sam comes calling, he’s probably going to want you, too.
The Obama administration’s recent decision to lift the ban on women in combat has opened the door for a change in the law that currently compels only men between age 18 and 25 to register for a military draft, according to legal experts and military historians.
Never before has the country drafted women into military service, and neither the administration nor Congress is in a hurry to make them register for a future call-up. But, legally, they may have no other choice.
It is constitutional to register only men for a draft, the Supreme Court ruled more than three decades ago, because the reason for registration is to create a pool of potential combat troops should a national emergency demand a rapid increase in the size of the military. Women were excluded from serving in battlefield jobs, so there was no reason to register them for possible conscription into the armed forces, the court held.
Now that front-line infantry, armor, artillery and special operations jobs are open to female volunteers who can meet the physical requirements, it will be difficult for anyone to make a persuasive argument that women should continue to be exempt from registration, said Diane Mazur, a law professor at the University of Florida and a former Air Force officer.
“They’re going to have to show that excluding women from the draft actually improves military readiness,” Mazur said. “I just don’t see how you can make that argument.”
Groups that backed the end of the ban on women in combat also support including women in draft registration as a matter of basic citizenship. Women should have the same civic obligations as men, said Greg Jacob, a former Marine Corps officer and policy director for the Service Women’s Action Network. “We see registration as another step forward in terms of equality and fairness,” Jacob said.
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., supports draft registration for women, according to his spokeswoman. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., who heads the House Armed Services Committee, hasn’t made up his mind. McKeon said through a spokesman that he’s awaiting a Defense Department report due in the coming weeks that will assess the legal impact of lifting the ban women in combat on draft registration.
But if you’re worried a draft notice is going to soon be in your mailbox, take a deep breath. There is no looming national crisis that makes a military draft likely.
A draft would be enormously unpopular; a new poll by Quinnipiac University found that American voters firmly oppose a return to conscription. Also, adding women to the mix just doesn’t appear to be a high priority for a battle-weary nation nearing the end of more than a decade of war.
The U.S. military has been an all-volunteer force for the past 40 years and women have become an integral part of it. Nearly 15 percent of the 1.4 million troops on active duty are female. More than 280,000 women have served in Iraq, Afghanistan or other countries in support of the wars. There have been 152 women killed in the fighting.
No one has been conscripted into the U.S. military since 1973 when an apprentice plumber from California named Dwight Elliott Stone became the last draftee to be inducted. Stone, now 63 and living in San Francisco, didn’t go happily. “I just wanted to do my two years and get the hell out,” Stone said. He ended up serving about 17 months, and never had to go overseas.
The rules have been changed to make a future draft more equitable than it was during the Vietnam era. Being a college student is no longer an out; induction can only be postponed until the end of a semester.
Men who don’t register with the Selective Service System, an independent federal agency that prepares for a draft, can be charged with a felony and fined up to $250,000. But the Justice Department hasn’t prosecuted anyone for that offense since 1986.
There can be other consequences, though. Failing to register can mean the loss of financial aid for college, being refused employment with the federal government, and denied U.S. citizenship.