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Rising tensions with Iran have been met with a number of questions (and lots and lots of memes) about the  existence of the federal program that provides a rapid and robust response system in the event of a national emergency, commonly known as “the draft.” So many questions that the Selective Service System’s (SSS) website crashed as a result of heightened traffic. Add malicious text messages spreading false information about a 2020 military draft to the mix, and you have got a recipe for mass confusion about the current state of U.S. military recruiting and our All-Volunteer Force. Fortunately, this has been met by a flurry of articles dispelling these myths, as well as a very large disclaimer on the SSS website that affirms there indeed is not a draft!

If we do not have a draft, what do we have?

The U.S. Military has been manned by volunteers since 1973, marking a move away from the practice of conscription (or mandatory service) that had persisted through much of the 20th century. In 1969, President Nixon created The Gates Commission in response to the public’s concerns about the draft and the Vietnam war. The commission was tasked with developing a plan to eliminate conscription and to move the country toward an All-Volunteer Force. In 1970, the commission stated unequivocally, “We unanimously believe that the nation’s interests will be better served by an all-volunteer (military) force.” The commission estimated that sustaining a force of 2.5 million Service members would require attracting approximately 440,000 new personnel to the military each year. Since 1973, the All-Volunteer Force has been sustained through professionally trained military recruiters positioned in every state and territory, sophisticated messaging and marketing programs that build awareness of job opportunities in the Military, and substantial formative and evaluative research the measures the strengths, weaknesses, and results of these two primary efforts.

Why do men have to register with the SSS if there is not a draft?

Although the Gates Commission recommended the end of mandatory service, it also recommended the instatement of a “standby draft.” This means the current military draft rules are only implemented in the event of a national emergency, after congressional approval, and in “extreme situations.” As such, all males ages 18–25 are required by law to register with the SSS, with very few exemptions (PDF). The SSS ensures that should a draft ever be necessary, the United States is able to approach it in a process that is fair and equitable (i.e., determined by a random lottery number and year of birth). Since the SSS’s inception, the United States has never instituted a draft calling upon Selective Service registrants.

What is the future of the All-Volunteer Force?

FMG is tracking two things that ultimately strengthen the All-Volunteer Force and SSS Registration. First, research conducted by Fors Marsh Group in partnership with the Department of Defense (DOD) suggests a growing disconnect between Americans and the Military. Although this disconnect reduces the awareness levels of the job skills and public service opportunities that exist in selecting the Military as an employment opportunity, this research strengthens DOD’s efforts to sustain the All-Volunteer Force by informing policy and outreach strategies. Second, in 2015, legislative and military policy restrictions on women serving in combat missions were lifted. This change culminated in a court decision in 2019, stating that the current practice of male-only SSS registration is unconstitutional. In parallel, the National Commission of Military, National, and Public Service is evaluating the Selective Service registration process, as well as recommending ways to increase participation in military, national, and public service. Their interim report (PDF) suggests several ways forward, including ways in which universal national public service (i.e., a period of dedicated military, national, or public service) could be feasible. The commission’s final report, due in March 2020, will outline their recommended ways forward and potentially shape the future of the All-Volunteer Force.

How has FMG helped sustain the All-Volunteer Force?

Since our founding in 2002, Fors Marsh Group has conducted research and analysis supporting the Services’ recruiting and marketing efforts. By providing DOD with sound research on the public’s attitudes toward and associations with military service, we have helped inform those charged with sustaining the All-Volunteer Force with critical and timely insight. Our work helps ensure that the Military is able to meet or exceed its recruiting mission through research and strategy and can maximize retention through ensuring Service members’ well-being. We are proud to support those who serve and the continuation of service as a choice.

About the author

Michael Karim, Ph.D.

Michael Karim, Ph.D.

As the director of Military Recruiting Research, Dr. Michael Karim helps the Department of Defense (DOD) understand the individual, social, and environmental factors that drive interest in military service. Through combining insights gained from survey, geographic, qualitative, and behavioral data, Michael has helped FMG provide DOD with a better understanding of the recruiting landscape.

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