(CNSNews.com) - Following his announcement that he is opening all positions in the U.S. military--including all combat positions--to women who can meet the standards, Defense Secretary Ash Carter was asked on Thursday if that means women will have to register with the Selective Service, just as men must do.
"It may," he said.
A reporter asked Carter, "Mr. Secretary, does this decision now lead to a -- a greater debate about whether women need to register for Selective Service?"
"It may do that, Phil," Carter replied. "That is a matter of legal dispute right now, and in fact, litigation. So...I don't know how that will turn out.
"I--by the way-- the legal, that legal determination won't affect what I announce today; that is, our timetable for the implementation of the decisions I've announced today. But it is an issue that's out there. Unfortunately, it's subject to litigation."
(As Courthouse News reported in July, a New Jersey woman is suing the Selective Service System on equal-protection grounds, arguing "there is no legitimate reason for the government to discriminate against the female class.")
Carter told reporters that his decision to open all military jobs to qualified women means they "will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before.
"They'll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars, and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They'll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALS, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers and everything else that was previously open only to men.
"And even more importantly, our military will be better able to harness the skills and perspectives that talented women have to offer. No exceptions was the recommendation of the secretary of the Army, the secretary of the Air Force, and the secretary of the Navy, as well as the chief of staff of the Army, chief of staff of the Air Force, chief of Naval operations, and the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command."
The Marine Corps, however, asked for a partial exception. It wanted to keep the infantry, machine gunner, and fire support reconnaissance men-only, but Carter said no. "We are a joint force, and I have decided to make a decision which applies to the entire force," he said.
"I did review the Marine Corps data, surveys, studies, and also the recommendation of the commandant of the Marine Corps at the time, of course who was General Dunford, now our (Joint Chiefs) chairman, that certain Marine Corps specialties remain closed to women. I reviewed that information and I looked at it carefully.
"I also heard from other leaders of other services who had studied similar issues in their own force, the recommendations of the other service secretaries and service chiefs, and I came to a different conclusion in respect of those specialties in the Marine Corps."
Carter said he believes that all of the issues raised by Dunford could be addressed "in implementation."
A reporter asked Carter why Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford didn't appear with him in making the landmark military announcement:
"Well, this -- I'm announcing my decision. I was the one who took this decision. I'm announcing my decision," Carter said.
"I -- you know, I should say, about General Dunford, you're going to have an opportunity to talk to -- to General Dunford. I've talked to him extensively about this subject. He's very knowledgeable about it. He will be with me as we proceed with implementation.
"I have taken parts of his -- the conclusions he drew. Others drew different conclusions, including myself. And that's the decision I've taken, and that's the direction we're going to go."
Carter, who never served in the military, said he believes that all of the issues raised by Dunford could be addressed "in implementation."
As the New York Times reported one year ago when President Obama tapped Carter to succeed Chuck Hagel as defense secretary: "Mr. Carter has degrees in physics and medieval history from Yale and a doctorate in theoretical physics from Oxford; he was a Rhodes Scholar, was a longtime member of the Harvard faculty and now lectures at Stanford. His senior thesis at Yale was on the use of Latin by monastic writers to describe the world of 12th-century Flanders."
In a statement released by the White House Thursday, President Obama said that opening up the remaining 10 percent of military positions, including combat roles, to women "is another historic step forward."
"As Commander in Chief, I know that this change, like others before it, will again make our military even stronger," he said. (Obama earlier opened the ranks to homosexuals, and he mentioned that as well.)
"I know that, under the leadership of Secretary Carter and Chairman Dunford, our men and women in uniform will implement this transition -- as they have others -- in a responsible manner that maintains military readiness and the unparalleled professionalism and strength of our armed forces. Together, we're going to make sure our military remains the finest fighting force in the history of the world, worthy of all our patriots who serve -- men and women."