Draft registration just a matter of preparedness

Tuesday, December 23, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:22 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

Notices from the Selective Service System show up on bulletin boards at high schools and in the home mailboxes of young men, reminding them that all males in the United States are required to register for the draft when they turn 18.

In Boone County, 5,617 young men between 19 and 25 years of age registered with the Selective Service System this year through Sept. 30. Only 209 18-year-olds, however, registered during the first nine months of 2003.

Dan Amon, a public affairs specialist for the Selective Service System, said federal law requires men to register within 30 days of turning 18, but there is no desire to prosecute those who don’t. In most cases, men typically put off registering until they realize it is required to receive financial aid or loans from the government, Amon said.

“They basically have a seven-year grace period,” Amon said. “We’re more interested in pointing out the benefits. In order to receive financial aid for school or receive a government loan to buy a house, you have to be registered.”

While there hasn’t been a Selective Service System draft since 1973, local draft boards remain at the ready to classify and select men for compulsory service. Officially called Local Review Board 14, five members and an area coordinator make up the body that will decide who goes into the military — and who doesn’t — if the draft is reinstated by Congress and authorized by the president of the United States. Local Review Board 14 covers Boone, Cooper, Howard and Randolph counties.

The draft issue came to life in September after the U.S. Defense Department posted a memo on its Web site seeking civilians to fill vacancies on draft boards across the country. The Selective Service System said the memo was posted by a regional official.

“Somebody put one and one together and came up with three, and thought a draft was right around the corner,” Amon said.

Because that wasn’t the case, the Defense Department has removed the memo.

Bill Mathews, area coordinator for the local draft board, said vacancies have been an issue here.

“Since I’ve been with the Selective Service, I’ve had a 50 percent turnover,” Mathews said. “We’ve had board members since 1980, when they restaffed the boards. The board members can serve for 20 years.”

Local Review Board 14 saw two of its five members leave in 2000, Mathews said, and there have been no vacancies since.

If a military draft were reinstated, a national lottery would take place to determine who would initially be enlisted. Men 20 to 25 years old would be enlisted first, according to the Selective Service System’s Web site, which also says 18-year-olds “would probably not be drafted.”

Until 1973, a draft was held when there were open spots in the military that could not be filled with volunteers. In 1975, the registration requirement was suspended. It resumed five years later under President Jimmy Carter when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The registration requirement was a precaution.

According to the Military Service Act, failing to register within that time is punishable with up to five years in jail or a $250,000 fine, but the Department of Justice hasn’t enforced that law since the late 1980s, said Pat Shuback, a public affairs specialist for the Selective Service.

“We send two letters out reminding young men of what the law says,” he said.

Mike Moesel, a senior at Hickman High School, said he thought his mother completed and returned the letter the Selective Service System sent after he turned 18 in October.

“Over the last couple of years it has become a bigger deal, but it’s not a day-to-day thing,” Moesel said of registering. “There is a consciousness of it.”

Rock Bridge senior Russell Borduin said he registered when he went for a new driver’s license.

“I just sort of forgot about it,” Borduin said. “You know it’s there, but you don’t generally make a date for it. My friends know about it.”

Missouri is one of 32 states that has enacted legislation that allows young men to register when they apply for their driver’s license. Jessica Robinson of the state Department of Revenue said 33,000 males could have registered for the draft this year at the time they applied for a driver’s license, but only 4,485 of them actually chose to do so.

Debby Ferguson of Howard County said she plans on serving her full term on Local Review Board 14.

“It’s not a whole lot of work,” Ferguson said of the volunteer position. As Howard County’s representative for the past three years, Ferguson said she is required to meet with the board once a year for a four-hour training session. That was in addition to initial training, which was eight hours a day for three days.

As a Selective Service requirement, Ferguson, Mathews and the rest of the board members must participate in a four-hour training session each year of their term. Ferguson said usually the last training session they had was on the MU campus just to, “update handbooks and go over procedure.”

Mathews, who served 10 years as a helicopter pilot in the Army Reserves, said there are several requirements for serving on draft boards.

“You can’t be paid by the Department of Defense,” he said. “You have to be a citizen and 18 years old. You have to be civic-minded, have shown an interest in the community and an ability to make sound decisions.”

Although Amon said there are no plans to reinstate the draft, the reason for keeping each local board member spot filled is readiness.

“We aren’t drafting right now, but if we are ever directed to, we have to spring into action rather quickly,” Amon said. “I always give the example of a firehouse. There may not have a fire for years, but when that bell rings, they have to be ready to go out and fight it.”

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