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Selective Service: Ready for a draft

By Thom Patterson
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(CNN) -- Although Congress is unlikely to follow calls from a top Democrat to bring back the military draft, the United States does have a plan, if necessary, aimed at inducting millions of young men for service.

The Selective Service System, an agency independent of the Defense Department, says it's ready to respond quickly to any crisis that would threaten to overwhelm the current all-volunteer military.

"We're the fire department," said spokesman Pat Schuback at the service headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.

"We're prepared to do the mission with whatever time period we're asked to do it in. Our current plan is 193 days and that was based on manpower analysis."

With an active list of more than 15 million names, Schuback said an estimated 93 percent of all men in the United States between 18 and 26 have registered for the Selective Service, as required by law.

Chris Baker, 20, of Decatur, Georgia, said he wouldn't support a draft under any circumstances.

"I don't believe it's right to send people who don't really want to go fight for the country," Baker said. "I probably wouldn't go, but I know that'd I have to go to jail for that. That's probably what I would do -- sit in jail."

But 25-year-old Donnie Deerman of West Blocton, Alabama, said he would feel obligated to participate in a military draft.

"I'd have to do it. My dad did two tours of duty for Vietnam and for this country," Deerman said. "I wouldn't want to leave my kids behind, but I wouldn't argue about it."

While U.S. commanders insist sending more U.S. troops is not the answer in Iraq, they concede they really couldn't maintain a much bigger force than the 150,000 deployed there now because the U.S. military is just too small.

Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, the Democrat who likely will head the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in the next congressional session, said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation" he plans to propose a new military draft next year.

But virtually no one expects the bill to have any chance of passage, and incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday the Democratic Party's House leadership would not support Rangel's proposal. (Full story)

CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider said every poll he's seen in the past year or two indicates Americans young and old don't want to return to the draft.

"And those who are calling for a draft, of course, know that it's unpopular," Schneider said. "They believe it may be the fastest way to end the war, and to keep the United States out of future wars."

Military experts say it's highly doubtful a military draft would ever again be green-lighted because the volunteer system works.

They also say any major attack against the United States would certainly result in a surge of additional volunteers that would make a draft unnecessary.

They point to the volunteer response following the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on the military complex at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, as an example, along with the surge in volunteers after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Retired Gen. James "Spider" Marks, a decorated 33-year veteran and CNN military analyst, doesn't see any likely scenario that would require the Pentagon to ask for a draft.

But, he said, "it's never a discussion topic that's off the table for long-term planning."

Instead of a draft, Marks said, the armed forces should be more aggressive about recruiting volunteers, "to increase the top line of the military."

If needed, the U.S. Selective Service System says it's ready to pull the trigger on a new draft. According to the Selective Service, here's how a draft would happen:

A crisis occurs that overwhelms the current all-volunteer military, forcing Congress and the president to authorize a draft system.

Selective Service starts a lottery, based on birth dates, beginning with men age 20.

Those who are assigned low lottery numbers are "ordered to report for a physical, mental, and moral evaluation at a Military Entrance Processing Station to determine whether they are fit for military service," according to the Selective Service's Web site.

They have 10 days to claim "exemption, postponement, or deferment," that would excuse them from service.

Compared to the Vietnam War era, any future draft would allow "fewer reasons to excuse a man from service," according to the Selective Service.

Some of the rule changes include shorter postponements due to student deferments. Many draft eligible men during the Vietnam era avoided military service by attending college.

The previous active draft was established in 1940 before World War II and suspended after it ended. The draft was resumed in 1948 and continued until 1973, when the military converted to an all-volunteer force.

The requirement that all men between 18 and 26 register with the draft was suspended in 1975 and reinstated five years later in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

CNN's Kristi Keck, Jamie McIntyre and Bill Schneider contributed to this report.

Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel of New York says he plans to propose a measure to reinstate the draft.


  • Active duty: 1.4 million

  • Ground troops: 500,000

  • Deployed: 390,000

    Source: U.S. Defense Department


    1940: First U.S. peacetime draft

    1973: Draft ends

    1975: Required registration suspended

    1980: Required registration resumes after Soviet invasion of Afghanistan

    Source: Selective Service

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