Alaska sees decline in military draft registration

All men ages 18 to 25 are required to register for a possible military draft lottery, but according to a press release from the Selective Service System, Alaska’s compliance is 12 percent below the national average of 92 percent.

Director Don Benton of the Selective Service System, the executive branch agency that administers draft preparations, spoke in Kenai on Oct. 17 to promote registration for the draft.While in Alaska he also spoke in Anchorage at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson and at the Alaska Federation of Natives conference.

Benton was invited to speak to local officials — including state Rep. Mike Chenault, Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel, Kenai City Council member Tim Navarre, Kenai Police Chief Dave Ross, Kenai Fire Chief Jeff Tucker, Kenai city manager Paul Ostrander, Kenai Economic Development District Executive Director Tim Dillon, and Elaina Spraker, regional director of U.S Senator Dan Sullivan’s Kenai Office — at Kenai’s Cannery Lodge by owner Ron Hyde.

The U.S military has used conscription since the Civil War, though draft policies and agencies were usually dissolved in peacetime. The most recent draft was held in 1973 during the Vietnam War, after which the Selective Service stopped taking registrations, but remained intact. In 1980 President Jimmy Carter re-instated draft registration in a Cold War foreign policy maneuver meant to demonstrate military readiness to the Soviet Union, which had recently invaded Afghanistan. Since then, the Selective Service has kept ready for possible drafts by keeping records on draft-eligible men between the ages of 18 and 25.

Non-registration is a felony punishable by a fine up to $250,000 or up to five years in prison, though the U.S Department of Justice hasn’t prosecuted for the offense since 1986.

“What congress has done instead is use the carrot approach,” Benton said.

Selective Service registration is required for jobs in the U.S Postal Service and federal executive branch, as well as for federal student loans, grants, and some vocational education programs.

State governments have also encouraged Selective Service registration by making it a requirement for getting a driver’s license. Alaska is not among the 40 states that do this, though a 2002 law makes receiving a permanent fund dividend contingent on draft registration.

Historically registration rates have been high in Alaska, though they are presently at a two-decade low. Selective Service has two requirements to measure compliance against: all men must register within 30 days of their 18th birthday, and all men aged 18 to 25 must register. The percentage of draft-registered 18-year-olds in Alaska in 2016 was 59 percent, a drop from 67 percent in 2015, according to an email from Selective Service spokesperson Matthew Tittmann.

“That’s a big drop in our world and could indicate that the ‘importance of Registration message’ is not getting out,” Tittmann wrote in an email. The percentage of men who register by 25, their last year of eligibility, is near 83 percent in Alaska, Tittmann wrote.

In the past two decades, Alaska’s percentage of men who’ve registered by age 19 has ranged from a 2002 low of 88 percent to a high of 99 percent, which held from 2008 to 2012, according to the Selective Service System website. In 2015, the most recent year for which the Selective Service System has posted compliance rates, 94 percent of Alaskan men had registered by 19.

Though the national Selective Service registration rate for 19-year-olds has waivered between 87 percent and 92 percent since 2002, rates vary greatly between states, with several making large declines. The lowest compliance rates for 19-year-olds (excluding territories and the District of Columbia) have dropped steadily from 79 percent (Louisiana) in 2002 to 57 percent (North Dakota) in 2015. The number of states with compliance rates in the 90s has also fallen — from a 2005 high of 39 to 19 in 2015.

Benton said high registration rates are important because they would make a possible draft more fair — the higher the registration rate, the lower each individual’s odds are of being drafted.

The Selective Service System has 124 employees, mostly civilians, and a $22.9 million budget in fiscal year 2017. Benton said that budget had been fixed since 1983, and he planned to push for more appropriations, especially for information technology upgrades.

Benton was appointed to lead the agency by President Donald Trump in April 2017, after serving as Trump’s campaign chair in his home state of Washington and later as a White House adviser leading Trump’s transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Reach Ben Boettger at benjamin.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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