Editor's note: The following is an opinion piece. The writer is not employed by Military Times and the views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Military Times or its editorial staff.
Finally there is an issue on which hardline conservatives and coffeehouse liberals can agree. Neither group truly supports the idea of sending America’s daughters and sisters into direct ground combat, and neither adores the idea that women should be compelled to register for the draft.
The last time Americans experienced a military draft, whereby vacancies in the armed forces are involuntarily filled, was the early 1970s, when the Vietnam War was near its end. A draft has not occurred since, and the U.S. military has remained an all-volunteer force, profiting on the patriotism and selflessness of young individuals inspired to serve.
At 18 years of age, young men are still required by law to register for the Selective Service, but in the age of the all-volunteer force there’s been no realistic potential for a draft. This, however, does not negate the importance and necessity of registration. In the event large numbers of personnel are needed, and fast, a draft is the primary mechanism to build and strengthen the armed forces.
Until recently, as a result of the Obama administration's decision to open all combat specialties to women, it was considered settled that only men are eligible for the draft and therefore required to register. No longer. The question of exactly who should register for the draft has been turned on its head.
Should women be required to register for the draft now that they, too, can serve in the infantry and other combat specialties? When accounting for the administration’s push for fairness and equality in the area of combat arms, it makes sense, especially given that they have not had to before because these specialties were not integrated.
At least that is the message from the Army and Marine Corps’ top uniformed leaders, even as the rest of the administration — to include the president himself — has been mostly silent on the issue. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter recently offered some perspective of his own, but his public statement stopped short on whether women should register for the draft.
For the Army and Marine Corps, a registration requirement for men and women is an appropriate next course of action in the march toward full integration. Not because it would suddenly give the services a deeper bench from which it could select talent, but rather it is consistent with the administration’s dictate to open all specialties without exception.
If only the administration’s loudest and most influential voices applied the same logic and common sense, even as consideration was given to opening specialties in the first place, but what else can be expected when judgments are based less on rationale and more on politics. If the opposite were true, the secretary of the Navy would not have openly discredited the Marine Corps’ independent study and subsequent recommendations before a final decision was made. The same goes for the special operations community, which returned its disapproval to integration through surveys and focus groups. Their input was evidently cast aside.
To modern generations, the prospect that Americans could be drafted to fight in wartime is a foreign concept, with unrealistic potential. Whether that day ever comes, the administration has stirred a new national debate, whether intended or not. My view is that the administration walked away from its obligation to make a proposal of its own, in the hope Congress would be too skittish to address the issue.
To begin this discussion and signal its significance, I introduced legislation, with the support of U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke, to require that women register for the draft. The bill is titled The Draft America’s Daughters Act — a title intended to be provocative. We have both served our nation — me as an artillery officer in the Marine Corps and Zinke as a Navy SEAL commander — and we are well-aware of what such a change could mean.
The idea that 18- to 20-year-old women could be drafted, filling positions tasked with finding and destroying the enemy, sometimes in quarters so close that fighting is reduced to the use of hands, knives and even helmets, is surely unsettling and should not be taken lightly. It is likely the administration either overlooked or ignored the issue in the politically ambitious move to open combat specialties, but now Congress has a responsibility to avoid committing the same error.
Truthfully, it is quite possible that I vote against my own legislation, as might others in Congress with military experience. At the same time, if the administration is refusing to take the advice and recommendations of the Marine Corps and special operations community into account, and pursue its plan to integrate all specialties without exception or care for impact, then it is possible that many votes — including my own — could change.
This is yet another dilemma created by the administration. In this case, it will have a direct impact on every American, not just those who serve. And it is absolutely necessary that the issue of Selective Service eligibility be exhaustively considered for the purpose of determining whether the American people truly want to send their daughters and sisters into harm’s way.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, is the first Marine combat veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be elected to Congress. He served on active duty and later in the Marine Corps Reserve before leaving as a major.