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Selective Service System On Permanent Standby: Or Is It

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Understanding Government (

) recently published an article about our Selective Service System ("SSS"). Yes, it still exists and is quite operational with an annual budget of $24 million, 130 staff, and a database of 14 million names - names that could resolve the current military manpower question very easily. But the SSS is an agency on permanent standby. Right? Right! Right...

The Current Military Manpower Question

Currently, the Pentagon uses what is called a "stop-loss policy" that insures servicemembers are rotated in and out of (and back again to) combat tours. This policy has by some accounts been a contributing factor to the services' increase in suicides. Regardless, Department of Defense ("DoD") Secretary Robert Gates has called for an end to the stop-loss policy in 2011. This decision, which will end the one policy that has provided the necessary troops for combat, begs the obvious question.

Some History

In 1972 President Nixon ended the "Draft." In 1980 President Carter reinstated selective service registration for a possible future call-up. A call-up that some 29 years later has yet to come. Accordingly, and for going on three decades now, our military armed forces have been entirely volunteer. The regular Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, along with their reserve units and the National Guard... all volunteers.

Today, when a son turns 18 the law requires he register with the SSS. Congress and the President can re-instate a draft should they feel there is the need.

About Our Selective Service System

Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, the Selective Service is divided into three regions. Once registered, one stays on the 'list' until you are 25. In addition to the SSS's 130 employees, the SSS maintains a 10,000 member draft board should there be the need. Should the need arise -- action by Congress and the President -- the draft would be re-instated using the same system that was used in the 60s... a Lottery.

Being Said Currently

Some argue that the draft isn't needed because our All-Volunteer Force ("AVF") works: "The bottom line is that an all-volunteer force is an important key to the success of the military." "[Our AVF members] have chosen to sacrifice for our nation... [and achieve] high unit morale and high unit effectiveness [because they have chosen to do so voluntarily]."

Others suggest, "You can note from history, that the federal government has chosen to institute a draft in the past, and I suspect that's why they keep the database " in case we find ourselves in the position where we have to institute a draft in the future."

Still others are sure, "There is zero political support for resuming conscription." "That is the simple answer. The generals don't want it. The eighteen, nineteen year-olds don't want it. The parents of eighteen, nineteen year-olds don't want it. The Congress doesn't want it." And they don't think "there is a rational explanation for why registration continues."

Tomorrow's Question

As I wrote at the beginning of this weeks column, DoD Secretary Gates has called for stop-loss to end in 2011. One can only wonder what program will replace it, providing the needed military manpower.

--- Regards, Walt Schmidt