Selective Service, the Draft, and Your 18-Year-Old

Frequently Asked Questions

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There has not been a military draft in the United States since the Vietnam War in the 1970s, but all young men are still required to register with the federal Selective Service when they turn 18 or within 30 days of their 18th birthday. If military conscription is ever resumed, men ages 18-25 will make up the draft pool.

If the draft is reinstated, it will be conducted as a lottery. The draft lottery would be based on birthdays. The first men to be drafted into service would be those that are 20 years old during the year of the lottery. The lottery would continue in this manner, year by year, until young men who are 26, the oldest eligible for the military draft, are selected. After the draft had reached 26-year-old men, the men in the 18-20 age group would begin to be called up. 

The lottery is conducted beginning with two large air mix drums, much like any other lottery. One drum is for balls with a date and month on them and the other has balls with numbers from one to 365. One ball is drawn from each drum and those with the dates are each paired with one that has a number. These are then handed over to the Selective Service office, which begins the process of drafting young men into service, starting with number one.

Because this creates a random selection of birthdates, it is an unbiased and fair way to determine the order in which young men are called up.

Most Common Questions About the Draft

As the parent of a son, you probably have plenty of questions and concerns. Here are the answers to the most common queries.

  1. How does my son register? Young men may register online at the Selective Service website, by mail, or at a post office, using a Selective Service postcard available at any post office. Your son will need to have his Social Security number handy.
  2. How rigid is that 30-day rule? Young men may register up to 30 days after their 18th birthdays, but they can also do it online as early as three months after their 17th birthday. The Selective Service holds them, then processes the paperwork a month before the big birthday and sends out a confirmation card.
  3. What if my son is here on a student visa? If he is not an immigrant then he doesn't need to register for the draft. (But all young male immigrants must register, whether they are documented or not.)
  4. Does my daughter need to register? Young women do not need to register at this time. Yes, women can serve in the military, but they are not obligated to register for the draft. The law underwent a review by the Supreme Court in 1981 and was reviewed again by the Department of Defense in 1994. Doubtless, the issue will be reviewed again at some point, but as of 2013, women need not register.
  1. What happens if my 18-year-old son does not register? It's a felony not to register. The punishment includes fines of up to $250,000 and up to five years in prison.
  2. Are there other penalties? The Selective Service and driver's license application systems are linked in 40 states. You cannot get a driver's license if you have not registered. In all 50 states, students who fail to register are not eligible for student loans or college grants, government jobs, or federally funded job training. And immigrants who do not register may be denied citizenship.
  3. Is anyone exempt? All men aged 18-25 must register, including conscientious objectors and the disabled. If the draft is reinstated, they can register their objections or disabilities then. Immigrants, including illegal aliens, refugees, and men in this country on green cards are required to register as well. There are a few exceptions, including young men already on full-time active military duty, as well as men in hospitals, psychiatric facilities, or in jail, but they must register within 30 days of release.
  1. What if we move? You don't need to worry about your son moving, say, from home to a dorm or a fraternity. But you should register changes of permanent address at the Selective Service website.
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