At the New Hampshire debate, the moderators asked a few of the candidates on stage about women registering for selective service. My memory’s fuzzy now, but I believe Sen Rubio and Govs Bush and Christie responded to the question. They argued that if the military has opened all or most combat roles to women, then women should be required to register for selective service. The following are a few thoughts I have on the issue — not necessarily a fully fleshed out argument, but considerations that should be made.
1) Numbers of bodies. Women represent roughly 14.5% of our armed service members. I know many of them. They do great work. I have worked with female Chaplain Assistants, and several of my commanders have been women — to include an outstanding Lt Colonel F-15 pilot serving as an Operational Support Squadron commander in a deployed location and a Colonel serving as a Medical Group Commander. They run circles around me (and, indeed, the vast majority of men) on anything that requires a large amount of multitasking or interdisciplinary skill. I do not have any reason to believe that only 14.5% of the military are women because of any particular animus against women serving in the military. Rather, a far smaller pool of women are interested in serving in the military than men. So, suppose all women register for the draft at the age of 18, just like men do. When 84.5% of the volunteer military are men and 14.5% are women, how would a draft work? Would the draft board treat all warm bodies as interchangeable? Is that the most efficient way to levy an army? It’s worth noting (and streiff, jump in if I’m out of line here) that a draft will primarily be interested in putting together infantry — a field only recently open to women, and a field that an even smaller number of women have any interest in filling, if similar career fields are any indicator. My Security Forces commander is female. She rocks; she also represents a tiny, tiny minority of women in the security forces career field, and an even smaller minority of people who wanted to be there, vs those who got assigned there.
2) Physical Standards. The women who recently received their Ranger tabs were deservedly lauded for their achievements. It’s worth noting, though, that neither of them are entering a career field that has anything remotely to do with being a US Army Ranger. They also received special treatment in the form of conditioning classes and multiple chances to finish the course that were not afforded to the men in the course. Having said that, it’s also worth noting that in the wider military, men and women have wildly different physical training standards to be considered within regulation for physical fitness standards. In the Air Force, this means men have to run faster and perform more sit ups and push ups — and I don’t just mean a trivial difference, particularly for running and push ups. The minimum passing scores for push ups and sit ups for an 18 year old male are 33 and 42, respectively. For women, they are 18 and 38. The run time for men is 13:36 for 1.5 miles; it’s 16:22 for women. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with mammals should not be surprised by this difference in performance. Males of almost any given mammal species are bigger, faster, and stronger than their female counterparts, and it has nothing to do with societal pressure or gender stereotyping. Now, in combat roles, those standards are MUCH higher, particularly for special tactics and special operations roles, and include a wider array of standards to be met — to include pull ups, swimming, marching with heavy loads, etc.
3) Logistics. Remember how I said that women represent only 14.5% of the military? Women have to be housed separately from men. Women require separate shower facilities. Women require a different assortment of hygiene products, health products, etc. Those differences come at a financial cost. A blunt example: In convoys or long marches, men go days without bathing. There are health complications for women who go days without bathing that men do not have to deal with. In convoys, troops frequently must urinate on the go, and there are anatomical reasons why men can accomplish this task more efficiently. All of these logistical concerns (and more) would have to be thought through in the event of a draft that included a larger percentage of women, and they would come at a financial and logistical cost. Pregnancy is a cost. A service member who is pregnant is not able to do many of the more physically demanding tasks (particularly those associated with infantry and combat) for the duration of the pregnancy. A service member who is pregnant cannot deploy until a year after giving birth. Thus, a pregnancy takes a service member out of the fight at least 21 months, and it is very frequently an event that happens more than once. Supposing we do draft women, we must either a) force them to go on contraceptive birth control, or b) risk some percentage of them being unable to do their job (which is likely combat in the event of a draft) large percentages of their draft obligation. We must weigh the opportunity cost or c) favoring jobs for women where pregnancy does not interfere with job performance. In other words, our choices are a) the possibility of moral injury, b) cost inefficiency, or c) the very sexism we’re supposedly trying to avoid by forcing women to register for selective service.
4) The nature of equality. What does equality mean, in the military? Equality of opportunity? Equality of outcome? Let’s look at fitness standards again. Is it fair to pass a woman who does her 18 push ups, but fail a man who can only do 32 instead of the required 33? It’s been proposed by many folks that the military should have one fitness standard, period. Would such a measure offer a desired kind of equality? If physical standards of women are raised, there will be fewer women in the military. If physical standards of men are lowered, there will be less fit men in the military. If physical standards of combat, special tactics, or special ops positions are lowered, we run increased risk of peril for teams out on missions because someone on the team cannot run as fast or carry as much. These concerns must be addressed.
5) The icky stuff. Consider the enemy we face. What would they do with female prisoners? What have they done to female prisoners? What have they done to women in crowds — be they journalists or just women minding their own business on New Years? We will risk moral injury and sexual trauma by drafting women into combat roles. It is a concern that must be addressed.
Summary: I don’t believe the military or American society as a whole have really thought through the implications of allowing women to serve in combat roles, let alone requiring them to register for selective service. If I were to make a prediction, it would be that women will be compelled to do so, and we will find out whether the various costs in resources, moral injury, and lives were worth a certain vision of equality — one that, possibly, not even a majority of women want.