The question officially has been put to the nation: Should women be allowed to serve in combat positions with the U.S. armed forces?
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter believes the time has come. In December, he opened all military jobs to women.
So do U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller. Both recently told members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that all mentally and physically fit Americans ages 18 through 26 should be required to register with the Selective Service System. That would make them eligible to be drafted into the U.S. armed forces, if the draft is ever reinstated.
Even U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, said she believes that including females in any future draft might encourage more women to don a uniform.
And then last week, two U.S. representatives – Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who is a former major in the Marines with service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, who served as a U.S. Navy SEAL for 23 years – decided to introduce a bill in Congress to generate a national debate about expanding the role of women in uniform.
The “Draft America’s Daughters Act” was intentionally chosen as a title to prompt a national discussion, congressional aides said. Indeed, Hunter even added that by opening combat positions to women, lawmakers will be required to ask themselves whether they “think we have come far enough that my daughter should be drafted?” Their answers lie in their loyalty to their constituents.
The United States changed to an all-volunteer force in 1973 as the war in Vietnam was winding down. In the history of the Selective Service System, women have not been required to register for the draft serving in combat roles because it was a moot point. The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard have never chosen to put “the gentler gender” directly into harm’s way, exposing themselves to severe injuries and often gruesome death. But as we have advanced socially, scientifically and politically, more and more women want a dog in the hunt.
One point that is crucial in the resurgent and provocative debate: Very few so far believe that the standards to qualify for combat roles should be lowered. If a male recruit has to successfully run two miles in under 17 minutes and 30 seconds, then female recruits will have to do the same. If a male recruit must qualify by completing three successive pull-ups, so should it be for female recruits. And so on – to prove that they one day might be required to rappel out of a helicopter, or carry someone wounded in combat to safety. The traditionally lenient fitness standards for women in the ranks would evaporate.
In the long run, that should not make a difference. Many women have shown time and again that they can keep up and sometimes even surpass their male counterparts. Great Britain has made the move to incorporate women into its combat-arms units. Israel has placed women in its elite and unsurpassed fighting units for years. So, it’s a new idea only to the heretofore chauvinistic society in which we live.
A time-worn bromide states: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If we truly are to stand by the constitutional standard of equality without being hypocrites, we should support the Hunter-Zinke bill and the Ash Carter initiative. The ambitious but incapable will be dealt with at the training level. Those who succeed potentially will add to the resolve of our ability to maintain the land of the free and the home of the brave.