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The question whether women should be required to register for the draft resurfaces

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Should women be required to register for the military draft? Selective Service registration for women has been debated for decades, and now it's surfacing again in Congress, as volunteers for military service decline. Joining us to discuss this is Melissa Bryant. She's a retired U.S. Army captain and Iraq combat veteran, who is also a former official with the Department of Veterans Affairs. So what do you think about requiring women to register for the draft?

MELISSA BRYANT: Thanks, A. Thanks for having me on. I think this is a question about citizenship and parity. At the core of the all-volunteer force, as it was established in 1973, males have been always required to enroll within the Selective Service between their 18th and 26th birthdays, and as women now are in combat roles, as women have been increasingly involved in all areas of combat across the military forces, it's just been the next logical step to include women as a part of Selective Service. And there's another component of this within the current National Defense Authorization Act that speaks to automating the Selective Service enrollment process as well. Currently, only 84% of men are now enrolling within the Selective Service, and we want to make sure that we're capturing everyone because there's some stiff penalties if you don't.

MARTÍNEZ: Do you feel that over the years, women have wanted to register for Selective Service but obviously not had the option?

BRYANT: I think that it's been an issue within - you know, we talk about the civilian military divide. Only 1% of our country currently serves, and so when you're further and further disconnected from military service and when you conflate the Selective Service registry with a draft itself, I think that there's a lot of panic out there. I think that there are some folks, and women especially, who may think that that means I'm automatically going to war, and it's not quite the same. It would not be the same as it looked even in Vietnam, and a lot of the roles that women would be looking to come into, which would be maybe cyber or tech or, you know, our space force, things that we're advancing in right now - those would be places where perhaps, if there were to be a draft, then that parity would allow for more participation within the force, and the force needs women.

MARTÍNEZ: There's been some pushback to this. For example, Senator Josh Hawley from Missouri said, quote, "We need to get reality back in check here. There shouldn't be women in the draft. They shouldn't be forced to serve if they don't want to." Captain, where do you think that pushback comes from?

BRYANT: I think the pushback comes from, you know, the ideological differences that have always plagued when we look at military service, going back to whether women should serve, whether Black Americans should serve. As a Black woman, I've always received pushback, I should say, from those who may see whether you should be a combat veteran or not, and so I think that there's something to be said for the - Selective Service has been implemented. You know, you could debate how successfully it's been implemented in other countries. Norway and Sweden, for example, NATO partners, you know, have their own version of Selective Service, with women being a part of that, and so it's not such a foreign concept that we should be so immune to here.

MARTÍNEZ: Really quick, in about 20 seconds, is there a better solution to this?

BRYANT: I mean, some say there shouldn't be a draft at all, and so you should get rid of Selective Service. Perhaps there should be a national service year in which you're giving back to your country - whether it's through Peace Corps, whether it's through Teach for America and plenty of other things - as a part of demonstrating that citizenship and giving back to your country. So there's lots of other models that are on the table there and ways in which you can demonstrate where you would stand up for your country in the event of a national emergency that would not look like a military draft.

MARTÍNEZ: That is retired U.S. Army Captain Melissa Bryant. Thank you.

BRYANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.