Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today lifted the ban on women serving in combat positions, opening the door to more than 200,000 new military posts and raising a number of important questions, including: Will women eventually be eligible for the draft?
By law, all male U.S. citizens and permanent residents must register with the Selective Service System within 30 days of their 18th birthday. Registration puts those “male persons” on the list the government uses if ever the draft returns and conscription in the military is deemed necessary in a time of war.
As of a 1994 review, women were still exempt from registering because they did not serve in combat positions. Today’s change in Pentagon policy, however, could ultimately result in a change to the law.
But it will take more than just the stroke of the defense secretary’s pen for the Selective Service Act to include mention of women.
With any change to personnel policies, the Defense Department is “required to provide an analysis of its impact on the Selective Service Act,” said a senior Pentagon official said on the condition of anonymity. “So that will be part of the notification to Congress.”
But what comes next is unclear.
“With regard to what will happen from there, I can’t say,” said the official.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta later admitted to reporters that he, too, did not know the potential impact of the change to the Selective Service Act.
“That’s not our operation,” said Panetta.
Known for his use of colorful language, Panetta then said, “I don’t know who the hell controls Selective Service, if you want to know the truth.”
“But, you know,” Panetta added. “Whoever does, they’re going to have to exercise some judgment based on what we just did.”
The Selective Service System is a federal agency independent of the Department of Defense.