What Is the Draft and How Does It Work?

Though President Bush and the Defense Department have dismissed the notion, speculation about the possible return of the draft has remained steady in recent months. Democratic lawmakers in particular have raised the issue, as the military struggles to meet recruiting targets.

The nation's first military draft began in 1940, when President Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act. The draft continued through war and peacetime until 1973. More than 10 million men entered military service through the Selective Service System during World War II alone.

To instate a draft again, Congress must pass legislation to begin the process and the president must sign the legislation. The Selective Service System may give as much as three months notice (according to current regulations) before it institutes a draft.

Under the law, virtually all male U.S. citizens and male aliens are required to register through Selective Service, which was reinstated by President Carter in 1980. These days you can even do so online through the selective service's Web site.

Those who fail to register with Selective Service before turning age 26, even if not prosecuted, will become ineligible for federal financial aid, citizenship, federal job training and federal jobs. Aliens will become ineligible to become citizens.

To be inducted men have to meet the physical, mental and administrative standards established by the military services.

Draftees would be selected by lottery. The first to be called would be men whose 20th birthday falls during that year. If necessary, they would be followed by those aged 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25. Those who are 18 or turning 19 would probably not be drafted, according to the Selective Service System.

When someone is selected, a notice will be sent to the address supplied by that person on their registration acknowledgment card. Ten days after the date on the notice, the Selective Service System requests that the draftee get a physical and report to a location for induction.

It could be as little as 45 days from the time the president signs the order to implement the draft to the day that the first recruits begin showing up at basic training camps.

According to current plans, the Selective Service System must deliver the first inductees to the military within 193 days from the onset of a crisis.

Basic training, usually eight weeks, is the next step. The length of time for advanced training is dependent on the complexity of the job the individual has been assigned. A recruit could be on the ground in combat five months from the day they were drafted.

Avoiding the draft will be more difficult than it was for those in the Vietnam era.

College and even Canada won't be options. In 2001, Canada and the United States signed a "smart border declaration," which could be used to keep would-be draft dodgers in. The declaration involves a 30-point plan which implements a "pre-clearance agreement" of people entering and departing each country. Underclassmen would only be able to postpone service until the end of their current semester. Seniors would have until the end of the academic year.

Those wishing to claim conscientious objector status must show that service would be incompatible with their moral or ethical beliefs. Politics, expediency, or self-interest are not considered suitable reasons to avoid the draft.

The local draft board would be responsible for deciding whether to approve the request.

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