Forty years after the U.S. military held its last draft, a federal law that requires Selective Service registration has nearly all men between the ages of 18 and 26 eligible for conscription in Georgia and South Carolina once again.
In 2012, enrollment in the two states reached 99.8 percent, with more than 625,000 young men – 428,116 in Georgia and 198,562 in South Carolina – agreeing to join a national database that stretches 26 million names long, according to the latest data available.
Dr. Larry Stewart, a Savannah State University criminal justice professor who was appointed director of Georgia’s Selective Service System in late July, said this week that he was impressed with the state’s rate, which is 10 points higher than the national average.
The Georgia Military College alumnus and retired Army major said he believes there are a number of areas where local Selective Service registration, readiness programs and board membership could be “enhanced,” however.
“It’s the best insurance policy we can provide,” Stewart said of Selective Service. “Freedom is not free and we cannot sit on our laurels because there is not an immediate need for an active military. The world is a very unstable place and we really do not know what tomorrow is going to bring.”
As state director, Stewart is the liaison between the governor’s office and the 62 active Selective Service boards in Georgia that decide which registrants in their respective communities receive deferments, postponements and military exemptions when a national emergency arises.
Stewart said his main goal is to target the 1,200 young men in Georgia who census officials estimate remain unregistered, a federal offense that could result in fines up to $250,000; five-years jail time; and at the very least, permanent loss of immigration citizenship rights, government employment and student financial aid.
The director said he plans to work with state leaders to get legislation passed in Georgia forcing men as young as 15 years old to sign an “affirmative statement” that states they wish to enlist in Selective Service when they apply for a driver’s license or learner’s permit.
Stewart said 40 states, most of which have 100 percent Selective Service enrollment, have enacted such a law and was able to cut back on form distribution, and public service announcements aired on area radio stations and hung in local post offices.
“It’s almost an assured way to approve registration rates,” said Stewart, a Forsyth, Ga., resident who has served as a Selective Service military reservist in various positions and received the agency’s Exceptional Service Award and the Army Joint Service Commendation Medal.
Mike Corbin, the operations manager at Selective Service’s regional headquarters in Atlanta, said Stewart has set his sights on the right age group.
Federal and state law requires all men, including noncitizens residing in the U.S., to register with Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday to receive a driver’s license, government job and student financial aid, but Corbin said communication efforts could be improved, specifically among 19-year-olds, the first to be called up if a draft is reinstated.
Registration among 19-year-olds in Georgia is 95 percent and in South Carolina, 100 percent. Corbin said South Carolina’s unregistered total was not “statistically significant” to produce an estimate.
“Usually the folks that are missed are those who do not know they are supposed to register and find out when they start college, apply for a student loan and realize federal law does not allow them to get benefits from the government if they are not register,” Corbin said. “As they generally get up in age, they tend to get the message.”