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Dare To Listen: Women And Selective Service

Brent Boller
Texas Public Radio


On this Veterans Day, our Dare to Listen project turns to the periodic debate in Congress over whether women should be required to register with the Selective Service System and a future draft when they turn 18.  Texas Public Radio's Brent Boller spoke with three women who lean toward the requirement and one man who has concerns.

He spoke first with the women.  In the studio, Brent sat down with Lily Casura, a journalist with an interest in studying combat veterans with PTSD and homeless women veterans; Sydnie Regal, corps commander of the John Jay High School Air Force Junior ROTC; and Queta Marquez, a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer.

"In my opinion, with equal opportunity, comes equal responsibility. That's the bottom line for me.  I think women have proven that they can serve in the military and I don't feel that having a requirement placed against young men and not young women is fair to either really,” Marquez said.

Sydnie Regal echoed that sentiment.   "I agree, a hundred percent. I think it's only fair for women to be asked to do their civic duty.”

Casura noted a problem.  "I've definitely seen women veterans and others say that the trouble with something like the draft is that it presupposes everything is already situated in the military and it isn't.  And one of the big issues is military sexual trauma.”

Paul Barkhurst is a local attorney and former Air Force F-111 fighter pilot.  He's not keen on women registering with Selective Service.  "I'm against women being drafted primarily because I have three daughters, two in their twenties, one who is in high school, but I think a lot of people would feel the same way.  We don't want to put our daughters in harm's way. We don't want to get them killed."

Credit Brent Boller / TPR
Sydnie Regal, corps commander, John Jay High School Junior ROTC

"I really understand that position.  I have two daughters myself.  One is 19 and one is 16,”  Marquez said. “I also have a son who is 14 and I don't feel that either one of them deserves more consideration when it comes to serving our country.  My son's life is just as valuable as my daughters' lives.  So, I don't see that argument as justification for not requiring our young women to sign up for Selective Service,"  Marquez said.

Virtually all combat positions have now been opened to women and the conversation naturally turns to the involuntary placement of women into combat roles. 

"You're in combat, you run out of bullets, you're doing hand-to-hand fighting,” Barkhurst said.  “Again, nothing against women.  They can be fighter pilots - they can be so many things.  But when you're talking about being on the ground, being in the infantry, charging the beach with the Marine Corps, if you picked a hundred men versus a hundred women I think your better fighting force, unfortunately because of biology, is going to be those hundred men."

Queta Marquez had a somewhat different view.  "We have women firefighters who also were placed in very dangerous and physically demanding roles.  Women who are capable, without lowering any standards, should have the same opportunity.  Not just the same opportunity, but responsibility,” Marquez said.

Sydnie Regal spoke with some non-ROTC students at John Jay High School about women registering with Selective Service.  She said they had some reservations. “It's not everybody's goal to go into the military.  But if you're needed, you have to go," Regal said.

"We need some sort of way to buffer,” Casura said. She is concerned about the size of the all-volunteer force and whether it’s adequate. “If we're going to stay in these wars, we've got to somehow address this issue, because we're asking too few people, fewer than one percent, to do far too much.  And the rest of us get to sit back and go 'hey' and not even always thank you."

Credit Brent Boller / TPR
Paul Barkhurst, Attorney and former Air Force F-111 fighter pilot

For Paul Barkhurst, requiring women to register with Selective Service with the possibility of getting drafted into a combat role is a show stopper.  "On most issues I don't carry signs or write my congressman.  If they were going to draft my daughters and put them in combat, that is one I would definitely go to battle on."

The panelists heard some thoughts from one another that made them consider other viewpoints.  "To Lily's point about the problems the military has had with military sexual trauma. I understand that and of course it's obviously a huge concern.  And it should be a huge concern for the nation," Marquez said.

Paul Barkhurst said that when he first came to the conversation he was viscerally opposed to a law requiring women to register with Selective Service, but he concedes that if the country faced a dire circumstance he would support women registering with selective service if they were not forced into a combat role. "The military, as most of us in here know, is a spear.  And the tip of that spear is just a few folks actually out there doing the fighting. The shaft of that spear is everybody else.  And there are plenty of roles there for both men and women who aren't suited for combat," Barkhurst said.

Credit Brent Boller / TPR
Lily Casura, journalist

The draft ended in 1973 and the requirement for men to register with Selective Service was put on hold in 1975 until the requirement was reactivated by President Jimmy Carter in 1980.  That requirement continues to this day.  The conversation about a requirement for women to register with Selective Service continues in Congress.