Top leaders in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps said Tuesday that the draft should be opened up to women following the Defense Department’s decision to allow female service members into all combat jobs.
Gen. Mark Milley, chief of staff of the Army, and Gen. Robert Neller, the Marines Corps commandant, both supported having women register for the Selective Service during testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Washington Post reported.
“Senator, it’s my personal view that, based on this lifting of restrictions … every American who’s physically qualified should register for the draft,” Neller told Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.), who also supported the change.
The Marine commandant told the Post following the hearing that Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s decision to open up all combat jobs to women means that women are not exempted from registering for the draft.
“Now that the restrictions that exempted women from that don’t exist, then you’re a citizen of a United States,” Neller said. “It doesn’t mean you’re going to serve, but you go register.”
Milley similarly said during the hearing that he believes “eligible and qualified men and women should register for the draft.”
Carter ordered the military in December to open up all combat jobs to female service members, rejecting a request from the former Marine Corps commandant and current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that certain ground combat jobs stay closed to women.
The White House later indicated that the Pentagon was thinking about proposing changes to the Selective Service to allow women to register for the draft.
Ahead of Carter’s announcement, the Secretary of the Army predicted that allowing women into all combat jobs would force lawmakers to have a discussion about requiring women to enter the draft.
“If your objective is true and pure equality, then you have to look at all aspects and at some point Selective Service will have to be one of those things considered very carefully,” Army Secretary John McHugh said in October.
The gender-integration of military combat roles has become a controversial issue, especially since the Secretary of the Navy dismissed an in-depth Marine Corps study showing that women performed significantly worse than their male counterparts in combat operations last September. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus refused to ask Carter for exemptions for the Marines or the Navy SEALs.
Mabus has also moved to make the Marine Corps boot camp co-ed and ban job titles with the word “man” to ensure their gender neutrality.
U.S. special operations forces fear that allowing women into the most demanding combat jobs could hurt the military’s effectiveness and result in lower standards, according to a survey released last year.