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What Selective Service didn't tell you, and you forgot to ask

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Who must register with Selective Service?
  • What happens if I don't register when I turn 18?
  • If I register, will I be drafted?
  • If there is a draft, what ages are called first?
  • Will women be drafted?
  • What are my options when I register?
  • What classifications does Selective Service have?
  • What is a conscientious objector (CO)?
  • Does a conscientious objector (CO) have to belong to a church, temple or synagogue?
  • Does a CO have to believe in God?
  • Does a CO have to be a pacifist?
  • What should I do right now, if I think I may be a CO?
  • Why should I start keeping a record of my CO beliefs?
  • Okay, how do I start my record?
  • What if I have already signed up for pre-enlistment or delayed entry?
  • What can I do if I am already in the military?

  • Who must register?  Virtually all men must register with Selective Service. The exceptions to this rule are very few and include: nonimmigrant aliens on student, visitor, tourist, or diplomatic visas; men on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces; and cadets and midshipmen in the Service Academies and certain other U.S. military colleges. All other men must register upon reaching age 18 (or before age 26, if entering and taking up residence in the U.S. when already older than 18).
    Men who believe themselves to be conscientiously opposed to war are still required to register, under the law. There is no program to classify individuals at this time. Should the Congress and the President reinstate a draft, a classification program would begin. Registrants would be examined to determine suitability for military service, and they would probably have less than ten days to claim exemptions, deferments, or postponements. Local Boards would meet in every American community to determine exemptions and deferments for the disabled, clergymen, ministerial students, and men who file claims for reclassification as conscientious objectors.  back
  • What if I don't register?  Failure to register can result in five years in Federal prison and/or a $250,000 fine. There are also other civil penalties.  Although no one has been prosecuted under this law for many years,  proof of registration is required to obtain Federal aid for college or job training, as well as most Federal jobs. In New York State, as well as many other states, you must consent to be registered in order to obtain a driver's license or learner's permit.  back
  • Will I be drafted?  There is no draft in place now.  However, Congress could establish a draft at any time.  If it did so today, letters of induction (draft notices) could be in the mail within a month or two.  Under current Selective Service regulations, those who turn 20 in the year the draft is held would be called first, in the order in which their birth date has been selected in a lottery.  Those called could have as little as ten days to report to the draft board or to file notice that they wish to apply for a change in their active classification. (There are three active classifications: 1 –A, combat ready; 1-A-O, military non-combatant; and 1- O conscientious objector).back
  • Who will be drafted first?  Under current Selective Service regulations, those who turn 20 in the year of the draft would be called first, then 21 year olds, and so on through age 25.  Finally, young men who have turned 18 1/2.  However, it should be noted that there has been talk about calling older individuals with particular skills or training needed by the military (e.g. doctors or nurses). back
  • What about women?  Under current law, women cannot be drafted.  Congress could change that. back
  • What are my options?  You do have options, but not at the time of registration. The Selective Service registration form makes no provision for options.  However an individual is free to write on the form, for instance, "I am a conscientious objector".  This can be the beginning of a claim for CO status.  Since Selective Service will probably discard the form after recording your basic information, it is a good idea to make a copy of the form and mail it to yourself.  Then if called in a draft, you can show you were already seeking conscientious objector status. Also, if you haven't already begun to keep records of why you are a CO, you should begin to do so when you register.  back
  • What are Selective Service active classifications?  The Selective Service System has established three active classifications:
    • 1-A - those who are eligible to serve in the military;
    • 1-A-O - those who object for reasons of conscience to serving in combat positions but are willing to serve in non-combatant positions;
    • 1-O - those who object for reasons of conscience to serving in any position in the military. back to top     -   back to "Will I be drafted?"
  • Why are these called "active" classifications?  Individuals classified 1-A,  1-A-O or 1-O would then be directed to report for duty, either in combat ready military service, non-combat military service, or  in a community service position to be determined and assigned by the Selective Service System. back
  • What is a CO?  According to the Selective Service System: "A  conscientious objector is one who is opposed to serving in the armed forces and/or bearing arms on the grounds of moral, ethical or religious principles.  Beliefs which qualify a registrant for CO status may be religious in nature, but don't have to be. Beliefs may be moral or ethical; however, a man's reasons for not wanting to participate in a war must not be based on politics, expediency, or self-interest. In general, the man's lifestyle prior to making his claim must reflect his current claims."   There is no provision in the law for those who may find a particular war morally objectionable. back
  • Do I have to be religious?  As noted above, CO status does not require that a person be religious or belong to a particular religion. back
  • Do I have to believe in God?  Nor does a conscientious objector have to profess a faith in God.  His objection  may be purely on moral or ethical grounds. back
  • Do I have to be a pacifist? No, a pacifist is one who believes that all violence is wrong.  A CO can be willing to use necessary force when required to defend himself or others from attack and still be morally opposed to participation in war.  back
  • What now??  Start keeping a record!!! As indicated above, in passing judgement on an individual's claim to be a conscientious objector, the Selective Service Board will consider whether his lifestyle prior to making the claim supports his current claim.  Therefore it is extremely important to begin right now to establish a record  of your objection to serving in the military.  Letters from pastors, teachers, counselors as well as records that show your involvement in anti-military or peace-oriented activities engaged in should be kept. back to top    -    back to "What are my options?"
  • Why keep a record?  In the words of the Selective Service System, the person claiming to be a conscientious objector "...may provide written documentation or include personal appearances by people he knows who can attest to his claims. His written statement might explain:
          how he arrived at his beliefs; and
          the influence his beliefs have had on how he lives his life.
    "The local board will decide whether to grant or deny a CO classification based on the evidence a registrant has presented. "    back 

  • How do I start my record?  The Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors has an excellent guide to get you started.  Go to:

  • What if I said I would join after high school?    High school students who have agreed to enlist after finishing high school can change their minds.  All you must do is notify the recruiter in writing that you do not want to enlist.  For more information,  again go to:

  • What if I am already in the military??  Those already in the military may have the best reasons of all to be conscientious objectors.  Again, go to:

Published by  Citizens for Selective Service Education  - Updated August 3, 2005