High school seniors ponder reinstatement of the draft

April 27, 2004|HERB BROCK

Shortly after Ashley Ford receives her diploma at commencement exercises late next month at Boyle County High School, she will follow her father's footsteps into the Navy. She is both anxious and full of anticipation about her decision.

"With what's going on in Iraq, I'm a little nervous about what I might be doing and where I might be stationed, but overall I'm excited about going into the service," said Ford, who signed up with the Navy weeks ago on a delayed entry plan.

Ford is more interested than most of her classmates about "what's going on in Iraq." Her father, William Ford, is serving on an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea where it supplies fighter planes to support U.S. ground troops in Iraq. She knows what her dad is doing and what she may be doing is dangerous work but she says she is up to the task.


"The service isn't for everybody but I know it's for me and I'm ready to serve," she said.

Will there be a time in the not-too-distant future when the military, now an option for young people, will be for "everybody " - that is, everybody who is a male U.S. citizen, ages 18-25 - whether they are "ready to serve" or not? In other words, will there be a military draft for the first time in more than three decades?

Students in government class interested in draft question

That question is of growing interest to Ford's classmates in Jim Donlon's senior government seminar class. For years Donlon has included as part of the class a brief overview of the Selective Service System and the military draft. For the first time in all those years, interest in that small part of his class has become big.

What had been more of abstract lesson in the Selective Service System is starting to become a real-life course for Donlon's students.

With warfare continuing to rage in Iraq more than a year after the president declared major hostilities to be over, there is a small but growing chorus of voices in Congress calling for the draft to be reinstated after 31 years of dormancy. They are concerned that the continued loss of U.S. soldiers, the recent extension of tours of duty of thousands of their comrades and the new order calling for the deployment of more troops are signs that pressure is building on the all-volunteer Army, reassurances from the Pentagon that recruiting and re-ups are keeping numbers in all branches steady notwithstanding.

These rumblings are starting to be felt by those who would be most affected - men, between the ages of 18 and 25. And several on the lower end of that age spectrum happen to be in Donlon's class.

"The main purpose of the Selective Service and draft overview has been to give the guys in our class information about registering for the Selective Service and, of course, reminding them to do it," said Donlon. "I supply them with a lot of information about the draft system, but the focus, until lately, has been on registration because there has been no draft."

Students get copy of Selective Service publication

Most of the information Donlon gives his students is contained in a publication by the Selective Service System called "A Teacher's Handbook to the Selective Service System." He gives the students a copy they can keep. Of most interest to his students is the section on registration, including the requirement that all male U.S. citizens must register within 30 days of their 18th birthdays.

Now these students are turning their interest to other sections of the publication, especially the one detailing what would happen if the draft were reinstated and another telling the history of conscription, dating back to the Revolutionary War.

"After they read the publication and we discuss it in class, I have the students write a one-page reflection on the draft," Donlon said.

On Friday, it didn't take the class long to reflect on the question posed by a reporter: "Do you favor or a oppose reinstatement of the draft?" By a show of hands, 10 indicated they were opposed to reinstatement, none indicated they favored it, and four had no opinion or didn't want to reveal it.

"If the country really needed me, I would go, but I think military service should remain voluntary," said Michael Lane. "I think a lot of guys would be like me and would join up if we felt there was a real need for us. But I don't think it would be good to force people to join."

Bryan Kreiter agreed with Lane's view of the draft. He also said that reports of growing interest among congressmen in reinstating the draft could be viewed as a measurement of support for the war, or lack thereof.

"My older brother Matt recently joined the Army and has been going through training. That's what he wanted to do and he is happy doing it," said Kreiter. "I'm not sure it would be for me, at this time. But, down the road, if I feel the country needs me, I'll be there.

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