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Women Warriors

26 October 2016


Even in the earliest years of the United States, women have been filling vital roles to support United States military operations. Women gave men some comforts of home, filling positions such as cooks, launderers, seamstresses, nurses, and, in some instances, spies in order to secure liberty for generations to come.

In today’s political climate, women are allowed to officially have combat roles in the US Military, but are not yet permitted to be selected for service via the draft. While some people view this as a necessary component of gender equality, others are hesitant to send their daughters and wives to war.

In December of 2015, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter ordered the Department of Defense to open all military positions to women starting in January of 2016. According to his press release:

"They'll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat... They'll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers, and everything else that was previously open only to men."

It goes on to say:

“Though more than 111,000 positions had opened to women in uniform since 2013 until today's announcement, Carter said, about 10 percent of military positions -- nearly 220,000 -- had remained closed to women. These included infantry, armor, reconnaissance, and some special operations unit”

The above quote mentions a number of jobs have opened up for women in the military since 2013. This was authorized by former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in order to revise an older 1994 rule where women could not serve in certain positions due to their proximity to combat. This is seen in Panetta’s statement in 2013:  

“However, many military positions, particularly in ground combat units, still remain closed to women because of the 1994 direct ground combat definition and assignment rule. Military and civilian leaders in this department have been taking a hard look at that rule based on the experiences of the last decade.”

This rule is described as follows by Panetta:

The 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule articulated five basic elements informing decisions on the service of women in the military: direct ground combat; berthing and privacy; co-location; long range reconnaissance and special operations forces; and physically demanding tasks.”

Fast forward back to today where women can now hold any position in the military if they meet the standards for said position. With the doors opening to women in the military, this hard question is being asked and debated in Congress: Does a woman have to register for the draft now that they can hold any position that only a man could have formerly held?

The rule regarding women signing up for the draft is within a larger piece of legislation, the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This essentially lays out a plan to allocate money and to regulate military policies for the Department of Defense, along with the national security programs for the Department of Energy. It is hotly debated in both houses of Congress.  

United States Senator Ted Cruz is opposed to the idea of drafting women. His stance can be seen in his press release regarding the conference on the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act:

“As the FY2017 NDAA heads to conference, I will continue to work as a conferee to oppose the provision that makes our daughters subject to being drafted into combat...The House wisely decided to listen to the American people regarding this matter and refused to include this provision in their version of the bill. I will continue to fight this provision and urge my colleagues in conference to respect the will of our constituents.”

Senator John McCain is the sponsor of the 2017 NDAA and responded to Cruz’s statement saying “Every uniform leader of the United States military seemed to have a different opinion from the senator from Texas, whose military background is not extensive.”

Other senators feel that a committee should be formed and tasked with evaluating the selective service system all together. 17 senators signed a letter in September 2016 opposing language in the 2017 NDAA saying:

“As you know, the Senate-passed bill includes language that would, for the first time, require women to register for the Selective Service. We believe it is better to refrain from this expansion and to instead, task an independent commission to study the purpose and utility of the Selective Service System, specifically determining whether the current system is unneeded, if it is sufficient, or if it needs an expanded pool of potential draftees.”

On the House floor, this issue was brought up by multiple representatives to discuss the content, but to also discuss how the amendment was added to the bill.

Representative Jared Polis was disappointed in the way that the amendment was put into the House version of this bill. In May of 2016 he spoke out on the House floor:

“It is my understanding it is in the Senate bill, to include women in Selective Service as well. I think it will likely be in any conference report that comes out. But for whatever reason, rather than having the debate and vote on the floor, it is being hidden behind a procedural trick in a self-executing rule.”

Polis goes on to say:

“Of course, this bill also strikes the Selective Service registration for women. The committee mark included women in Selective Service. Personally, I cosponsor a bill with Representative Mike Coffman to eliminate Selective Service that would save money. And, of course, in my entire lifetime, there has not been a draft.
If we are going to have a Selective Service system, of course, it needs to include women. Women serve in every single combat role. It needs to include everybody so we can mobilize manpower and womanpower most effectively. But, unfortunately, that has been stripped out of this bill.  I believe we should take a hard look at doing away with Selective Service entirely. Of course, at the very least, we should include both men and women at the age of 18.”

Representative Polis believes Selective Service shouldn’t exist at all in order to save money, since the last time the draft was instituted was in 1969 during the Vietnam Conflict, but if it has to be around, he believes both men and women should be included.

Representative Niki Tsonga states how it moves the United States toward full gender equality:

“Gender equality is achieved when women and men enjoy the same rights, opportunities, and responsibilities across all sectors of society, including military service, and when the abilities, aspirations, and talents of women and men are equally valued. Including women in the draft is a step toward that equality.”

The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act passed in the Senate (85-13) with the current language where women would have to register for the draft. However, the amendment requiring women to register for the draft was removed in the House’s version of the NDAA. Congress is now in the process of resolving differences, including this one, with the bill before it reaches the president’s desk for a final signature or veto.
Congress will have to iron out this issue, among others, before this legislation can move towards being implemented.

Jesse Fischer is currently a research associate with Vote Smart in the Profiles sub-department. For more information contact us by email at or  calling 1-888-VOTE-SMART.



Related tags: blog, draft, military, women-in-military

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