Not everyone embraces the idea of women serving in combat, particularly Republican lawmakers as well as commanders of the nation’s most-elite special operations units. Skeptics continue to question whether women are up to the task. They seem determined to squelch recognition of women’s battlefield participation any way they can.
Republican Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and Ryan Zinke of Montana introduced a bill last week to require American women ages 18 to 26 to register for Selective Service — the draft — just as their male counterparts are required to do. Yes, the draft still exists, though we’ve had an all-volunteer force since the 1970s.
The bill clearly is a cynical move designed for shock value. Hunter and Zinke are veterans. Both appear to believe the Obama administration has gone too far with its advocacy for women who want to pursue combat eligibility. They echo concerns of military commanders who contend women’s presence in front-line combat jobs would destroy unit cohesion and erode performance.
President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Ash Carter overruled the objections, with Obama noting in December that 90 percent of military positions have opened to women during recent decades and that they already serve — and some have died — while performing combat duties.
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More than 280,000 women were deployed in the Iraq and Afghanistan combat zones, and at least 150 were killed. But because they haven’t been officially eligible for combat, they haven’t always received the recognition their male counterparts have.
In 2012, four servicewomen, including an Air National Guard helicopter pilot shot down in Afghanistan, had to sue to get their combat service recognized.
That’s the background driving the effort to make their combat service official and establish a training regimen that prepares them for battlefield challenges.
The difficult question is the one raised by Hunter and Zinke: If women want equality, are they prepared to accept the awesome responsibility that accompanies it?
The short answer is that not all women want to serve in the military, and not all women in uniform necessarily want to be on the front lines. Not all men want to serve and many probably shudder when it comes time to register for the draft.
If Hunter and Zinke seriously want to pursue this bill, let them. It’s a good debate for the nation. Equality under the law doesn’t just mean equal pay and equal opportunities for promotion, it means bearing equal responsibility, regardless of gender, when the call comes to serve.