Proposal gets draft boards' attention

Published: Monday, January 20, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 19, 2003 at 10:05 p.m.
Howard Rosenblatt and Martin Johnson have been preparing since the 1980s for the bill that U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel of New York introduced earlier this month, proposing reinstating the military draft.
Rosenblatt and Johnson are two of thousands of volunteers nationwide who sit on local draft boards that decide who should be classified exempt from the draft.
"We go to class every year to stay updated on how to make judgments on various situations," said Rosenblatt, chairman of the Alachua County board. Rosenblatt is an attorney and insurance agent.
"We are there just in case somebody decides there is a need," said Johnson, the Unix system administrator for the University of Florida library system. "I'm not sure there really is a need for a draft right now, but this makes us realize we have to pay attention."
What Selective Service needs right now, though, are more volunteers like Rosenblatt and Johnson. Nationwide, many draft board members are nearing the end of their 20 year terms and must be replaced, according to Alyce Burton, public affairs specialist in the Selective Service's Office of Public and Congressional Affairs.
"If a young man believes he cannot serve, the local board determines if he fits one of the classifications," Burton said.
The classifications include students, conscientious objectors, clergy and hardships, some elected officials and veterans or reservists.
According to Burton, students are allowed to defer their induction into the military until the end of the semester, while graduating seniors can defer until graduation. Those seeking a conscientious objector classification must make their case to the local board. Board members are also responsible for classifying ministers and ministerial students, elected officials like sheriffs, and hardship cases, such as a sole surviving son and in some cases someone who is the sole support of aging parents and children.
To increase uniformity of decisions, draft board members take an initial 12-hour class, followed by an annual four-hour refresher class, said Keith Scragg, the Selective Service regional director for the southeastern United States.
"In Florida, every county has at least one board and in large counties like Dade, there are multiple boards," Scragg said. Military reservists are assigned to help recruit and train local board members, but are prohibited from serving on the boards.
"The requirements for being considered are that you be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old, live in the area of the board's jurisdiction, be willing to spend time at the position and not be retired or an active member of the armed forces or the reserves because of the potential conflict of interest that would present," Skagg said.
From the pool of candidates for a board position, the governor of each state makes recommendations on who should get the appointments and the director of Selective Service makes the final decision on behalf of the president.
The United States had a draft in place until 1973 when it was suspended by President Nixon toward the end of the Vietnam War.
President Jimmy Carter's administration set up the current arrangement for the Selective Service of requiring men between 18 and 26 to be registered so that the government would have a pool of potential inductees it could quickly draw upon. Selective Service officials estimated that there are 14.1 million men eligible for a draft now.
"Our job would be to hear the initial appeals," Rosenblatt said. "If we turn someone down, then they can appeal to the regional and then the national level, but if we approve their classification, say as a conscientious objector, then it is over and that is the classification for that person."
Both Rosenblatt and Johnson have a few more years to serve in their term, but there are openings in almost every county of North Central Florida.
"In some cases, we have had people who moved away or had to resign for some reason, and of course there were some deaths, but generally we are also looking for replacements for people who have bene on the board for 20 since we started back up in the 1980s," Skagg said.
Jimmy Carter was president in 1980 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

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