Selective Service Studied Rapid-Fire Draft Plan

The Selective Service System last year studied whether it should revert to a Cold War-era plan of being able to draft people within 13 days of a crisis, compared to its current goal of carrying it out within six months. But the agency ultimately decided not to make such a major change because of opposition from within the Selective Service System.

William Chatfield, the Selective Service System director, ordered the Arlington, Va.-based agency to study how the organization would shift to what is known as “emergency mobilization.” The agency defines emergency mobilization as being able to conduct a lottery of young American men and delivering 500,000 of them through the doors of military processing stations within 13 days from the start of a draft.

The last time the agency was geared up for an emergency mobilization was in the 1980s, when the U.S. and its NATO allies faced a numerically superior Soviet Union during the Cold War. The 13-day draft option was officially eliminated in 1993.

Since then, the Selective Service System has had its current, less aggressive mission of getting draftees to the military in 193 days-or a little more than six months-in the event of a draft. “Nothing has changed at all,” Chatfield said in an interview, adding: “We are taking a look at all different kinds of scenarios.”

Richard Flahavan, a spokesman for the agency, said of the 13-day option, “We have it on the shelf. We intend to do nothing with it.”

President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have said they oppose bringing back the draft–as do most members of Congress–to address severe personnel shortages in the armed forces caused by ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bush has proposed expanding the overall size of the Army and Marine Corps in order to train thousands more additional volunteer forces.

A Jan. 26, 2006, seven-page memorandum prepared for Chatfield by his senior staff, with input from the agency’s offices around the country, framed the two-week draft option this way:

“There has been some discussion in regards to the Agency posturing itself to be able to implement an emergency mobilization (of 13 days)…versus the current time phased response’’ of 193 days, the memo states.

“Issue: Should the Selective Service System revert back to an emergency mobilization scenario to have the first conscript at a military entrance processing station” 13 days after a draft is enacted?

The memo shows that most of the agency’s officials were against resurrecting the two-week draft capability, in part because the Pentagon and Congress had not asked for it, and in part because Selective Service lacked the funds and personnel to execute such a plan. Public relations considerations also were a factor.

“If the public were to learn of emergency mobilization preparations,” the memo states, “there would be a national public relations nightmare for the Selective Service System and President Bush. The immediate conclusion drawn by the public, all media and anyone else hostile to the Selective Service System is that the administration lied and a return to a military draft is imminent.”

The draft ended in 1973 as the American commitment in Vietnam waned, beginning the era of the all-volunteer force. Registration for the draft was suspended in 1975 but was resumed in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. About 13.5 million men, ages 18 to 25, currently are registered with the agency. Congress would have to approve a draft before it was resumed.

Among the recent actions taken at the Selective Service System:

  • The agency is planning a test run in 2009 of the military draft machinery for the first time since 1998. Chatfield said that the exercise could be delayed due to a lack of funds.
  • The agency has pressed to expand draft registration. One month before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the then-chief of the agency recommended that the government register women for the draft for the first time and require that young Americans regularly inform the government about whether they have training in niche specialties needed in the military. The Pentagon rejected the proposals.
  • The agency proposed extending draft registration age from 25 years old to 34 years old. The Pentagon also rejected that proposal.

Reprinted with permission of the author. © 2007 Hearst Newspapers