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

Frequently Asked Questions

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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 just don't like the possibility that their son might have to go to war. But regardless of their concerns, their son must still register.

Background

The original Selective Service system was started in 1940 when the government was concerned 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, we had something similar even then; but the 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 for the Vietnam War. But it went dormant shortly after that and the country stopped registering young men. Then, in 1980, Congress passed the Selective Service Act 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 the disabled are required to register.

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.

Keep in mind though, there has not been a military draft in the United States since the Vietnam War in the 1970s. But, if the draft is ever resumed, men ages 18-25 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 license. And, there also 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 birthdays, but they also can do it 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.

It is important to note that all young men must register with the Selective Service including immigrants and young men in this country illegally. In fact, registering for the draft may help undocumented young men because it provides them with a federal document indicating that they are in this country as a step toward citizenship. But, if immigrants do not register for the draft, they are delayed in applying for citizenship.

Meanwhile, young women do not need to register at this time.

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 in 1994.

However, some transgender students do need to register for the draft. This requirement is based on what the person's gender was at birth as listed on the birth certificate. As a result, a person that was born male but underwent a sex reassignment surgery to become female still must register for the draft.

Meanwhile, young people that were born female but had surgery to become male, are not required to register for the draft. Yet, given the risk of data match errors, they may want to register for the draft any way to avoid off problems with applications for financial aid and so on.

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 five years in prison. What's more, the Selective Service and driver's license application systems are linked in 40 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, 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.

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 slip through the cracks.

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