The U.S. Army's expanded "stop-loss" order last Wednesday came short of adding new troops to the ranks. It did, however, resurrect a fear unknown for a generation: the draft.
Rumors about plans for reinstating mandatory military service have been marching across the Internet. Most accounts make note of two identical bills in Congress, Senate Bill 89 and House Resolution 163, which would require that "all young persons in the United States, including women, perform a period of military service." The accounts also claim the federal Selective Service System is scrambling to fill vacant posts on local draft boards across the country. Many also refer to a "Soapbox Alert" at congress.org, a political bulletin board not related to congress.gov, claiming "the draft will start in June 2005."
Yet at this point, the rumors are just that. On Capitol Hill, both bills, which also allow for a period of civilian service, have been stalled for 15 months, and congressional aides say no action is expected this year. As for the draft board activity, Selective Service officials say it's routine housekeeping.
The current law requiring men between the ages of 18 and 25 to register with the Selective Service also calls for local boards, including 25 in Oregon, to be ready to review requests for deferments and exemptions in case a draft is ever needed. The system was set up by the Carter administration in the late '70s in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Board members may serve 20-year terms, and many came aboard in the early '80s. This, officials say, is why the Selective Service is filling so many vacancies.
Multnomah County's 19-member board meets annually for training, and members interviewed by WW say they haven't been given any indication that their services will be needed anytime soon. "There's no immediate plans for a draft," says James Weerts, a 54-year-old Web designer and 20-year veteran of the draft board.
Fellow board member Roger Tobin, 59, a volunteer with Operation Lifesaver (a program that teaches railroad safety at local schools), says that given what's happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, he understands why people are talking about the draft. But, he adds, "being ready is different from activating."