There was a time when seeing your number come up in a lottery was something to dread.
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But nearly 42 years ago, the last military draft lottery was held, resulting in the induction of 49,514 young men as the war in Vietnam was winding down. In 1973, after only 646 men were drafted, Congress ended the unpopular practice with the genesis of today’s all-volunteer military.
With Veterans Day celebrated this week, Nevada’s new Selective Service director, Frank Gonzales, wants to remind young men between ages 18 and 26 that they still must register — or face life-altering consequences.
“If you don’t … it’s a $250,000 fine and five-year possible sentence. More pressing on this, you can’t get any government loans. It precludes you from getting even government employment and other employment,” he said. “You want to make sure 18 through 25 you’re registering. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen, (and) when you turn 26, you can’t go back.
“That’s what I really worry about the kids today. They need to register to protect their options into the future,” said Gonzales, who was appointed this year by Gov. Brian Sandoval to replace long-time Selective Service Director Billy McCoy.
Registering for selective service doesn’t mean that a draft will ever be held or that a draftee will be inducted into the armed services. Draft boards screen out those deemed physically or mentally unfit for military service or otherwise exempt for various reasons.
Gonzales, a retired brigadier general and former Nevada Army National Guard commander, said in a wide-ranging interview that it’s not inconceivable a draft might be needed. He also noted that women as well as men could one day be required to register.
Last year’s decision to drop a longstanding ban on women in combat opened the door for discussion of equal opportunity to be drafted, as well.
Gonzales said he “finds that interesting.”
He said his daughter, Army Capt. Kandace Gonzales, 29, flew Blackhawk helicopters on medical evacuation missions with the Nevada National Guard’s 168th General Support Aviation Battalion in Afghanistan.
“She feels that women should be considered equal,” he said.
So the issue “is near and dear” to him.
“I think this will probably change, like everything else changes,” he said. “It will catch up to what’s correct.”
For now, he said, requiring women to register for the draft “is not a popular subject.”
“But it’s something we have to do to be prepared because if something should happen, it’s our job to be prepared as a nation,” he said.
Considering the draw-down of troops in Afghanistan and force reductions prompted by budget cuts, resumption of the draft is unlikely in the absence of a crisis.
“If a widespread, major national disaster happened and you think about what happened in Japan with the tsunami (and) what happened in other countries when it came to earthquakes, they had to draw people out to make sure they supported” relief efforts, he said.
“And the (U.S. National) Guard isn’t staffed at the level that can do it, and the active component isn’t staffed at the level that can do it,” Gonzales said. “So it’s going to require a process to bring those resources in.”
Nevada has 12 Selective Service boards and an appeals board. Five citizens for each board are nominated by the governor and approved by executive branch officials. Currently, there are openings for more than a dozen board volunteers.
“They serve for up to 20 years and go through training every year and stand-by in the event we would have to call up young men between 18 and 25 into service for our nation,” Gonzales said, noting that it would take about six months to implement the process.
Young men can register for the draft when they renew or obtain a Nevada driver’s license; or at any post office; or by accessing the Selective Service System online. High schools also provide male students with registration information.
“Our big issue is making sure we get the appropriate percentage of young men signing up for Selective Service,” he said. “… Around 90 percent is what we’re shooting for.”
The Selective Service System listed Nevada as 48th out of 55 states, territories and the District of Columbia for draft registration compliance in 2013, with 78 percent of young men registering. That is an increase from 73 percent in 2012.
By comparison, Arizona and nine other states saw 99 percent registration.
Gonzales is trying to find out why that state has one of the lowest registration percentages and has enlisted a second officer to start a “full-court press” to increase it.
American men were drafted every year from 1917 through 1973, except 1947. During that time, more than 16 million men were inducted, with the last entering the Army on June 30, 1973, according to the Selective Service System.
The process, also called conscription, has evolved since it was used to raise armies for the Civil War.
Initially, the oldest eligible men were called up first. That changed in the Vietnam War era, with a lottery drawing starting in 1969. That year plastic capsules bearing dates of birth for men born between 1944 and 1950 were drawn by hand from a glass container and posted in the order drawn to assign all men born on each date a number. The lower the number, the more likely an order to report for induction.
Plexiglas revolving drums later replaced the glass bowl, and families across the nation nervously watched the drawings as they were televised live. Anti-war protesters often burned their draft cards as an act of defiance, and thousands of young men left the country — Canada was a popular destination — to avoid induction.
Post-Vietnam, no Selective Service registration was required from 1975 until 1980, when President Jimmy Carter reinstated the registration in response to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
The last draftee still on active duty, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Ralph Rigby, 62, retired from the Army last month. The native of Auburn, N.Y., was inducted in 1972.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.