What is Selective Service?

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A strong military is critical in the event of a war or other military conflict. The United States military consists of men and women who volunteer to serve in the armed forces. However, at a time of low military enlistment, a draft could become necessary. Enter the Selective Service, which makes it easy for the government to locate and draft men whenever necessary to rapidly expand U.S. military forces.

What Is Selective Service?

Selective Service is a process maintained by the United States government to identify males subject to military drafting. A civilian agency, operated under the United States government’s executive branch, runs the Selective Service. All males, including immigrants, between the ages of 18 and 26 are required to register with the Selective Service.

How Do I Register for Selective Service?

You can register for Selective Service online via the official Selective Service website by filling out a form at the post office or by completing a reminder card the Selective Service mails to you. If you are applying for federal student aid via the federal student financial aid (FAFSA) form, you can check a box on the form to register. Many high schools also offer registration help for students.

Deadlines for registration are strict. You must register within 30 days of turning 18 and no later than the day you turn 26 years old. In some cases, disability, hospitalization or incarceration may exempt you from registration requirements.

What if I Don’t Register?

If you fail to register with the Selective Service, you can be imprisoned for up to five years and/or face a fine of up to $250,000. In addition, failure to register makes you ineligible for federal student financial aid, federal job training, federal jobs and some state jobs. If you are an immigrant, failure to register may result in denial of citizenship.

If you fail to register by your 26th birthday, you may avoid penalties by proving that you did not willfully fail to register. You will likely need more than your word to prove this. To avoid penalties, you have to provide solid evidence and supporting documents.

How Do I Find Out if I Am Registered for Selective Service?

The Selective Service provides two easy ways to check your registration status if you were born after 1960. Check online by visiting the Selective Service verification page and click “Verify Now.” The online system will prompt you to enter your last name, birth date and Social Security number to receive confirmation of your registration status. Call 1-847-688-6888 to inquire by phone.

If you were born before 1960, you will need to download a records request form from the Selective Service Records page, and mail the form to:

National Archives & Records Administration
National Archives – Saint Louis
ATTN: RL-SLP.O. Box 38757
St. Louis, MO 63138-0757

If the National Archives and Records Administration finds a record of your registration, the agency will request payment for retrieving the record via a mailed invoice. Keep in mind that you were not required to register if you were born between March 29, 1957 and December 31, 1959, because the Selective Service was not in effect at that time.

When the U.S. Government Has Used a Draft

The United States Government first used a military draft during the Civil War, followed by World War I, World War II and the Cold War, along with both the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The government also drafted men during peacetime following implementation of the Selective Service and Training Act in 1940. Based on this act, all men aged 21 through 35 had to register for the draft. As of World War II, men became subject to the draft beginning at 18 years of age and ending the day before they turn 45 years of age.

Selective Service registration is a quick, simple process required by law in the United States. Registering doesn’t necessarily mean you will be called on to serve in the military but does provide for a fast, fair draft in the event the country needs it. The last draft occurred in 1973.