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

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Signing up for the draft is something that strikes concern in the hearts and minds of parents. Sometimes parents are concerned by the fact that the process seems overwhelming, while other times they simply don't like the possibility that their son might have to go to war. But regardless of their concerns, their son must still register.

History of the Draft

The original Selective Service system was started in 1940 when the government was anxious that additional manpower would be needed for World War II.

Even though the draft did not exist for the Civil War and World War I, historically, the nation had something similar even then; by the time of the Second World War the US government wanted to have an independent agency to handle drafting young men to serve their country.

Consequently, men were drafted for World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. But the mandatory draft went dormant shortly after that and the country stopped registering young men. Then, in 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed a proclamation reinstating the Selective Service requirement for males aged 18 to 26, and the country has registered young men ever since.

Today 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. Even conscientious objectors and disabled men are required to register.

If the draft is reinstated, those who have filed with the Selective Service can officially record their objections or disabilities then. Immigrants, including undocumented people, refugees, and men in this country on green cards, are required to register with the Selective Service 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 those men must register within 30 days of leaving those facilities.

Keep in mind there has not been a military draft in the United States since the Vietnam War in the 1970s. If the draft is ever resumed, men ages 18–26 will make up the draft pool.

How to Register for the Draft

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 when he registers.

Some states even allow young men to register when getting their driver's licenses. Also, there is an opportunity to register for the draft while filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form for college.

Young men may register up to 30 days after their 18th birthday, but they also can register online as early as three months after their 17th birthday. When young men use this route, the Selective Service holds the applications, then processes the paperwork a month before the big birthday, and sends out a confirmation card.

If immigrants of age do not register for the draft, they are delayed in applying for citizenship. Meanwhile, young women do not need to register at this time. Though there are more than two genders, the American military complex operates on the gender binary.

Although women can serve in the military, 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 multiple times since then, with no significant changes to the registration requirements.

However, some transgender students do need to register for the draft. This requirement is based on what the person's sex was at birth. As a result, transfeminine people still must register for the draft, even if they have socially and medically transitioned. This mandate is an example of institutional transphobia.

Meanwhile, young transgender men are not required to register for the draft.

Penalties for Not Registering

Parents and young men need to realize that it is a felony not to register for the draft. The punishment includes fines of up to $250,000 and up to 5 years in prison. What's more, the Selective Service and driver's license application systems are linked in 41 states. A young man cannot get a driver's license if he has not registered.

Additionally, 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.

How the Draft Works

If the draft is reinstated, by order of the Congress and the President, the draft 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.

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.

A Word From Verywell

It is very important for young men to register for the draft within 30 days of their 18th birthday. For this reason, you may want to put a reminder on your calendar to be sure the application is filled out on time; or begin the process early while he is still 17. Given the penalties for forgetting, it is not something you want to let slip through the cracks.

9 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Selective Service System. History of the Selective Service System.

  2. Selective Service System. Selective Service - Who Must Register.

  3. Selective Service System. Register.

  4. U.S. Department of Education. Filling Out the FAFSA® Form.

  5. Selective Service System. Women and the Draft.

  6. Selective Service System. Who Needs to Register: Transgender People.

  7. Selective Service System. Benefits & Repercussions.

  8. Selective Service System. State-Commonwealth Legislation.

  9. Selective Service System. Return to the Draft.

By Jackie Burrell
Jackie Burrell is a former education and parenting reporter, experienced in issues around parenting young adults as a mother of four.