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Published: Sunday, 10/12/2008

Local draft boards stand ready in event of national emergency

BY ALEX M. PARKER
AND JEROME L. SHERMAN
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

The U.S. government hasn't drafted a male into the military since 1973, but the Selective Service System still oversees 2,000 draft boards nationwide that could spring into action on short notice.

Ohio has 82 draft boards, each with five members, all volunteers. There are three boards in Lucas County.

"It's something that is essential, I think," said John Adler, a member of the Washington Local Board of Education who also serves on a Lucas County draft board.

He said the draft boards ensure that, in the case of a national emergency, the country could quickly institute a draft.

"That's why they still have it, even after the draft died several years ago," he said.

A World War II draftee himself, John Adler, has served on the board for 20 years.

"I decided that there ought to be someone on the board who had prior military experience," he said.

Mr. Adler said, having experienced war himself, he felt the Selective Service program was necessary in case a national emergency broke out.

Mr. Adler notes that the times have changed since he was drafted in World War II - including the possibility that women would be drafted into noncombat roles if there is another draft.

"You have to have fairness on the board. These are different times," he said.

Ottawa Hills Councilman Norma King said she was nominated by then-Gov. Bob Taft to serve on the local board about 10 years ago.

"I certainly hope that we never have to institute one, but we never know what sort of emergency may arise in our country," Ms. King said. "We do need people who are ready to work. ... If there was something else on the order of 9/11 or greater, this may have to be done."

The country, however, won't need the service of the local draft boards until both Congress and the president decide to reinstate the draft, a possibility during a crisis that requires a vast expansion of the military.

Then the Selective Service System would hold a national lottery, giving each day in the calendar year a number from one to 365. Men who turn 20 the year of the draft and whose birthdays fall on days with low lottery numbers are the most likely to be called for service. The draft then moves to the 21 to 25 group, one age at a time. Men between 18 and 19 are unlikely to be drafted, although they are eligible.

Draftees would report to Military Entrance Processing Stations for physical examinations. Men who receive a 1-A classification are "available immediately for military service."

But they would have a chance to ask local draft boards for deferments, citing religious beliefs, family hardship, and school enrollment.

Unlike the Vietnam era, when college students avoided service, today's students would get deferments that last only to the end of the semester in which they receive their draft notices. (Seniors could defer to the end of the school year.)

To sharpen board members' understanding of the deferments, Selective Service has a yearly training session during which the members determine applications from fictitious candidates.

This year, the board members received an application by mail, and each member decided whether to grant a deferment to applicants such as "Russell Ricks," a pacifist who says he abhors war in all cases, comparing it to state-sponsored murder.

Complicating the case is an anecdote about a fight between the imaginary Mr. Ricks and his tenant. Mr. Ricks wrote that after a tenant hit him with a pool cue, he hit back in self-defense.

The request was for a "Class 1-0" deferment, which would defer the applicant from any type of service at all - even in a noncombatant role.

Others can apply to serve the military in a nonviolent role, such as an administrator or nurse, based on a moral objection.

"You take in all the evidence - the person's oral testimony, as well as the testimony from the witness," Mr. Adler said. "I think everybody should serve, unless you have some valid objections to serving."

Conscientious objectors need to demonstrate a long-term commitment to anti-war beliefs, not just opposition to a current war.

And they still have to provide some type of national service, such as a noncombat position in the military.

The Selective Service also has a separate process for drafting health-care professionals.

If local draft boards deny a deferment request, draftees can file an appeal.

The first conscripts must report to the Department of Defense within 193 days of the beginning of the draft.

Contact Alex M. Parker at:

aparker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6107.



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