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Push for all younger women to register with Selective Service gaining steam

View images of the women deployed as the second Female Engagement team in Afghanistan
View images of the women deployed as the second Female Engagement team in AfghanistanPaula Bronstein / Getty Images

Ladies, for the first time ever, Uncle Sam soon may be pointing at you.

Days after the Pentagon cleared women to take certain combat roles, advocacy groups for military women say another new hour has arrived for all young female adults to register with Selective Service, the giant pool of names collected by the government should America ever opt to revive the draft.

The movement to require women ages 18 to 25 to sign up for Selective Service — mirroring the law for all U.S. men in that demographic — is rooted in both active-duty and veteran circles.

The Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), which strives to represent all women in the armed forces, believes such a change is simply the logical next step to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s decision last week to erase the long prohibition on females in combat.

“SWAN advocates for the inclusion of women into Selective Service,” said Anu Bhagwati, executive director of SWAN and a former Marine Corps captain. “Lifting the ban on women officially serving in combat is about giving qualified women the opportunity to serve and making our military stronger, and that would include having women register for Selective Service."

“If you are going to say ‘total equality’ in the military, that has to include Selective Service registration,” agreed Cassaundra StJohn, founder and CEO of F7 Group, which provides resources, training and mentoring to female veterans. StJohn served in the Air Force and Air Force Reserve between 1985 and 1998, reaching the rank of staff sergeant.

Amid his historic announcement last week, Panetta alerted administrators of the Selective Service System “to exercise some judgment based on what we just did.”

Selective Service officials heard that remark. Since then the agency — an independent office within the executive branch — has been conducting a "what-if drill" in case a Defense official or Congressional member asks what adding women to agency's workload would cost the country, said Pat Schuback, spokesperson for Selective Service.

View images of the women deployed as the second Female Engagement team in Afghanistan
View images of the women deployed as the second Female Engagement team in AfghanistanPaula Bronstein / Getty Images

"We're not the policy-making group. We're kind of like mechanics. We just do what we're told to do. We have the mechanism. We don't hold a position on whether to draft women or not," Schuback said. 

Should that change occur, Selective Service — which has about 130 full-time employees across the country — would "need to be probably resourced a little bit," Schuback added. "But we don't anticipate that it would be a lot because the machinery's the same. It would be in the man hours of answering the inquires, handling questions and doing direct mails out to people to remind them" to register. 

Panetta also set a May 15 deadline for each service branch to provide “detailed plans for implementation” on how female service members will be placed into combat duties, said Nathan Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman.

“Following that, a formal notification to Congress will be made, detailing (combat) occupations that will be opened to women,” Christensen said. “Selective Service requirements are determined by law, and we can't speculate on any changes to law.”

However, federal law does require DOD — after making such sweeping policy changes — to provide a breakdown of the impact those shifts may have on the Selective Service Act, senior Defense officials said in a briefing last week. That analysis, they added, “will be part of the notification to Congress” made by DOD after each branch reports back to Panetta in May.

One female veteran who was attached with an infantry team in Ghazni, Afghanistan, argues that with the female-combat ban gone, women should now be Constitutionally guaranteed the right to be eligible for Selective Service — and a possible military draft.

“It can be hard to adapt to new customs. There will be some feathers ruffled,” said Courtney Witt, a former Air Force senior airman, who also served in Iraq. “... It is a little difficult, for some, to see our daughters, sisters and wives go off into war.

“I can’t explain the feeling you have when you have fought alongside brothers and sisters in arms. It’s a bond that can never be broken ... It’s an amazing patriotic feeling,” Witt said. “Shouldn’t any man or woman be a part of that?”

The drawdown of U.S. forces and the pullout from Afghanistan make the chances of a draft reinstatement far less likely than, say, even eight years ago when Coalition forces were battle-thin and bogged down in Iraq, experts say.

But there are some in Washington who still favor bringing back the draft — as a deterrent to war.

In 2010, Rep. Charles Rangel, D.-N.Y., reintroduced a bill that would require all U.S. men and women between the ages of 18 and 42 to perform national service, either in the military or in a civilian service that helps national defense. The bill died in committee.

At least four times before, Rangel has written similar bills that would have restored the draft.

“There's no question in my mind," Rangel told the New York Times in 2007, "that we wouldn't be in Iraq ... if indeed we had a draft, and members of Congress and the administration thought that kids from their communities would be placed in harm's way."