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Military draft should include women, Congress-appointed commission report finds

U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Briana Barca poses for a photo on Camp Lejeune. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Zachary Zephir)
March 25, 2020

A bipartisan group appointed by Congress released its recommendation report on Wednesday that suggests women should be required to register for the military draft.

The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service report recommends keeping the military draft in place and adding women to its requirements.

“This is a necessary and fair step, making it possible to draw on the talent of a unified Nation in a time of national emergency,” the report said.

Currently, men ages 18 to 26 are required to register with the Selective Service System, a mandate imposed by former President Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Proclamation 4771 on July 2, 1980. The Commission’s report recommends women of ages 18-26 also be added to the system.

“The Commission determined that the time is right to extend the registration requirement to all Americans, men and women,” the report said. “The current disparate treatment of women unacceptably excludes women from a fundamental civic obligation and reinforces gender stereotypes about the role of women, undermining national security.”

Commission Vice Chair Debra Wadra, who formerly served as assistant secretary for the Army, said on a conference call, “By leveraging the skills, abilities and talents of all Americans — regardless of gender — qualified men and women alike will be able to fill any and all personnel needs.”

Wadra also noted that the Selective Service System should not be retired because “the risk is too high to put the system into standby.”

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, a former U.S. Air Force Captain, said the report paves the way to “support Americans of all walks of life – and all genders.”

Sen. Jack Reed said, “The issue of selective service was more fundamental than who was required for register for it.”

“This is not a report that should sit on a shelf. This is a call to action,” Reed added. “These recommendations can serve as a guidepost as we map out what the future of national security should look like.”

The Commission’s research spanned two and a half years, entailed 14 public hearings, 11 public meetings and forums across 42 cities in 22 states, and considered more than 4,300 public comments. It also sought the input of more than 530 organizations.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee commended the Commission’s report in a statement on Tuesday.

“The Commissioners have made significant recommendations about the future of national service. In the context of future great power competition or modern pandemic response, all of their proposals deserve attention and consideration,” Thornberry said.

“Opening Selective Service to women is just one of their recommendations. I look forward to examining the data and arguments the commission has compiled more closely,” Thornberry added, and encouraged his colleagues to hear the Commission’s findings.

Aside from retaining the Selective Service System and adding women to it, the report makes sweeping recommendations to increase awareness for and incentivize national service opportunities. Commission members emphasized that national service opportunities are often overlooked.

Rep. Michael Waltz remarked a desire for America to return to the “spirit of the draft” when Americans from all parts of society and all walks of life were joined together to serve side by side.

“With national service, not just military service, we can get back to that ethos,” Waltz said.

Rep. Don Bacon, a three-decade Air Force veteran, said “The culture of service will make our country stronger and more unified. This effort helps get us down that path.”

“Our report contains a bold vision and comprehensive plan to strengthen all forms of service,” Commission Chairman Joe Heck said during the conference. “We call on Congress and the president to move forward on our recommendations.”

The issue of the current male-only military draft has been a source of contention in recent years.

The National Coalition for Men and two individual men have sued over the draft, claiming it’s discriminatory in nature. The lawsuit challenges a 1981 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the male-only draft registration system.

The lawsuit also argues that the military’s 2015 changes allowing women into combat roles has changed the circumstances of women in the military. More than 224,000 women now currently serve on active duty in the military.

Ultimately, Congress has the final authority to make changes to the military draft and Selective Service System.