Now that the Pentagon has lifted the ban against women serving in combat, does this mean that all eligible women should now be required to register for Selective Service and consequently be entered into a draft?
The answer to that question is: It depends on who you ask, and who’s willing to talk.
Outgoing US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the military’s official ban on women in combat in late January, partly on the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
During a press conference with General Martin E. Dempsey, Panetta said that “whoever” is in charge of the Selective Service System (Director Lawrence G. Romo), “is going to have to exercise some judgment based on what we just did.”
For the record, all qualified male U.S. citizens, and male aliens living in the United States, who are ages 18 through 25, are currently required to register with Selective Service. There are some exceptions to this rule, but failure to register can result in five years’ imprisonment, denial of federal benefits and a stiff fine of up to $250,000.
The Selective Service System law, as it is currently written, refers specifically to “male persons” in stating who must register and who would be drafted.
However, for women to be required to register with Selective Service, Congress would have to amend the law.
Commander Leslie Hull-Ryde, Defense Department Spokesperson, Personnel and Readiness, told SFBay her agency is taking a wait-and-see approach to the issue:
“Since Selective Service requirements are determined by law, we won’t speculate on any changes that may be made by Congress.”
Congress, though, is being tight-lipped on the issue. Repeated phone calls from SFBay to the offices of Congresswomen Barbara Lee, Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo were not returned. The San Francisco office also of Veterans Service had no comment.
On the campaign trail in 2008, President Obama had voiced his mixed support for Selective Service registration that included women:
“I think that if women are registered for service – not necessarily in combat roles, and I don’t agree with the draft – I think it will help to send a message to my two daughters that they’ve got obligations to this great country as well as boys do.”
A Bay Area recruiting officer, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, told SFBay:
“Right now, Army recruiters haven’t received any guidance or policies, so it’s business as usual. They put out a lot of guidance for ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ procedures.”