Opinion

Opinion: Even the secretary of the Army questions the wisdom of keeping the Selective Service

Skylar Anderson
Vermont National Guard Spc. Skylar Anderson, the first woman in the Army to qualify as a combat engineer, in December 2015 at Camp Johnson in Colchester, Vt.
(Wilson Ring / Associated Press)

If President-elect Donald Trump is looking for useless departments to kill in the name of reducing government, he should look no further than the Selective Service, the agency that does little more than maintain a registry of men technically available to fight in the unlikely event that the country reinstates a military draft.

After the military opened combat jobs to women last year, the question about whether they should also register for the Selective Service was left hanging.

Some people said no way — that women shouldn’t sign up because even if a few women are up to the challenge of fighting in combat, certainly the average civilian woman would not be, so why clog up the registry with so many unqualified potential draftees? Others said, of course — because you take the good things with the bad. (The “yes” side includes President Obama, who after years of neutrality on the subject came out as supporting women registering last week.)

The L.A. Times’ editorial board’s response was somewhat different: How about no one be forced to sign up for the purely figurative draft? Eric Fanning, the secretary of the U.S. Army, seems to agree with our view.

Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning speaks during a groundbreaking for the U.S. Army Cyber Command Complex at Ft. Gordon, Ga., on Nov. 29.
Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning speaks during a groundbreaking for the U.S. Army Cyber Command Complex at Ft. Gordon, Ga., on Nov. 29.
(Michael Holahan / Augusta Chronicle )

Fanning met with editors and writers at the L.A. Times offices Friday before heading over to the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley. When asked whether women should be required to register for the draft, Fanning reiterated what he said at his confirmation hearing earlier this year.

“I think I said, ‘Equal opportunity is equal responsibility.’ So, yes. But I would go a step further and say it’s probably time to review the Selective Service. Do we need that anymore? Is it the right form?” Fanning said. Then he recalled how his cousin’s dog somehow managed to get on a Selective Service list.

“If we’re going to have a Selective Service, then yeah, everybody should be a part of it. But I don’t know if 40-plus years into an all-volunteer force, with the way that we fight and the way we build our military, if we even need a Selective Service anymore,” Fanning said.

When even the man in charge (at least for the moment) of recruitment and training of the Army doesn’t think a draft registry makes a lot of sense, then it may be time for a critical look at the requirement that young men (and maybe soon young women) sign up when they turn 18 or face harsh punishment.

mariel.garza@latimes.com

Follow me @marielgarzaLAT