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Women should be allowed in military draft, say top officials (+video)

The comments follow a December announcement that women would be eligible for all combat positions in the military.

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Commandant of the US Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller (l.) testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the implementation of the decision to open all ground combat units to women on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 2, 2016. Seated from left are Neller, US Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Under Secretary of the Army Patrick Murphy, and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

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Two top US military officials said that women should be eligible for the draft.

On Tuesday, Gen. Mark Milley, chief of staff of the Army, and Gen. Robert B. Neller, Marine Corps commandant, testified in front of a Senate Armed Services Committee and expressed opinions that women should be required to register for a military draft. The comments came in response to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) of Missouri, who asked a question concerning the possible change.

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Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Acting Army Secretary Patrick Murphy were also at the hearing and stated their support for continued discussion on the topic. Gen. Milley’s and Gen. Neller’s comments are the first time top military officials have publicly supported integrating women into the draft.

The US military is currently an all-volunteer force, but men are required to sign up for Selective Service, which registers them in case a draft is needed. Women have historically been ineligible for both the draft and combat positions, but minds are shifting.

"Senator, it’s my personal view that, based on this lifting of restrictions … every American who’s physically qualified should register for the draft,” Gen. Neller said at the hearing, according to The Washington Post

In December, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced women would be allowed to serve in combat posts across all branches of the military without exception. The move, while increasing the likelihood that the draft eligibility would be opened to include women, also reflected a shifting national opinion on women’s role in the military. 

A 2013 Mason Dixon poll found that 59 percent of Americans said women should be eligible for the draft, including 61 percent of women and 57 percent of men. That's a jump in support from earlier decades. Gallop polls from 1979 to 2001 showed the issue was a controversial one, with the percentage of Americans approving of women being eligible for the draft remained about the same over the 22-year period (43 percent in 1979 and 46 percent in 2001).

Women interviewed by The Christian Science Monitor in December 2015, after Sec. Carter’s announcement, also reflected a range of opinions, with most endorsing the change.

“I would be terrified,” Louise VanDenburgh, an 18-year-old international affairs major at George Washington University, said. Then she declared, “I would rise to the occasion.” 

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“It’s not my dream to do it, but I know for some women it is – and if giving women that opportunity means I have to sign up, then I will,” Dorothy White, a PhD student said. 

Carter’s announcement in December and the comments made Tuesday prompted a range of reactions during the Senate committee hearing.

Some senators expressed concerns that quotas would be set to ensure certain amounts of women filled various combat roles.

Military leaders rejected the suggestions and affirmed it would not happen. “It would endanger not only the safety of Marines, but also the safety of our nation,” Sec. Mabus said, according to Reuters.

If women are approved for the draft, registering for Selective Service could also take time. The process of integrating women into combat units has been slow, according to Reuters. Military leaders estimate it will take years before the integration is complete.

“No less than one to three years of deliberate effort,” Gen. Milley estimated at the hearing.