Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar, a California Air National Guard pilot who served three tours in Afghanistan, said excluding women from a draft reinforces a stereotype that they are less capable than men and need to be protected. Not every woman can handle a close combat job, she said, and neither can every man.
But they can contribute in other ways if a crisis demands their service, said Hegar, who received a Purple Heart for wounds she suffered when her Medevac helicopter was shot at during a mission near Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Hegar and three other female service members filed a lawsuit last year challenging the combat ban on the grounds that the policy unfairly blocked them from promotions and other advancements open to men. The suit did not address the question of draft registration for women.
"You can't pick and choose when equality should apply to you," Hegar said. "Making generalized statements like, 'Women are capable of being in combat' or 'Women are incapable of being in combat,' are equally ignorant. People are either competent or they're not competent."
For baby boomers in particular, talk of conscription stirs memories of the social and political upheaval of the late 1960s and early 1970s caused in large part by the unpopularity of the Vietnam war and the perceived unfairness of the draft. Research published in the late 1970s showed that men from low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to fight in Vietnam than men from middle- and high-income families who could avoid being drafted by going to college or finding a slot in a stateside National Guard unit.
"The American people lost confidence in the draft as a means of raising an army when it ceased to require equal sacrifice from everyone that was eligible to serve," said Bernard Rostker, a former director of the Selective Service System and the author of "I Want You! The Evolution of the All-Volunteer Force."