HARTFORD, Conn. –
Michael Smith swore in as the Connecticut State Director for the Selective Service System on Friday, August 12, 2022, in Hartford, taking over for outgoing Director Mark Fullerton.
Smith is a finance and insurance professional, a West Point graduate, and youth sports coach who was appointed by the Governor to fill this important volunteer role.
“Michael is the exact type of person that we want in this role, a person who has dedicated his life to service, a West Point grad, years of professionalism and giving back to the community through coaching and the West Point Society, we are very happy the Governor felt the same and we are happy to have him onboard,” said Selective Service System Associate Director for Operations Thomas “T.J.” Kenney.
The example set in modeling service to others and local communities was top of mind for the new Director throughout the event.
“In the movies, they talk about the sacrifice, but it’s always taking up arms, but there’s so many different ways we serve,” said Smith. “We talk about during COVID, you had soldiers who were serving their communities across this country and getting (young people) passionate about serving, wherever it is – in their communities, in service, that’s the part that helps resonate, but they need examples, and they are looking to us. If we are giving and reaching out and we are leading and showing service in community, then they are going to do the same thing, they will be instilled with the same values and purpose.”
A large part of a State Director’s responsibility is education and mobilizing people to fulfill their responsibilities.
“(We must) be mindful of how to serve and I think that leadership matters, it always matters, in tough times or challenges it always matters, and the way you do that is by getting involved,” said Smith. “You look to educate, you look to train, but more importantly to inspire.”
The United States did away with having an active draft in 1973 during the Nixon administration in response to anti-Vietnam War sentiment. So why then does the Selective Service System still exist and why must all males between the ages of 18 and 25 register with it?
“It’s a very critical piece of our National Defense Strategy,” said Acting Selective Service System Region 1 Director Anthony Rayome. “Luckily, since 1972 the all-volunteer force has done a superb job and continues to. It is really nice to know that there is a backstop with the Selective Service System, that in a time of national emergency we can actually call upon our citizens to help support the cause.”
In other words, in the event of an immediate and significant need to increase the size of the U.S. military, a draft could be reinstated, and it would be built upon the Selective Service System backbone. The State Director is a key part of that system.
“(State Directors) do two primary things, one is to build those relationships within the state,” said Rayome. “Obviously, the National Guard is one of our key relationships across the country and then the Governor’s office to let them know what we do. They have an appointments office that manages our local board members that we try to get nominated and placed on a local board. What local board members are, are volunteers throughout the state that say, ‘hey if we ever have a draft, I’ll sit on my local board and hear those cases of individuals who are conscientious objectors or may ask for a deferment for a particular reason.’”
Not that a draft is likely, but the system has evolved and is now a national-level system.
“The national system now is a lottery, so we actually have big lottery machines with ping pong balls in them with the month and day, and then we do a double random (drawing,) so we also have the call of days 1 through 365 of the year that’ll match up,” Rayome said. “So even if your birthday is called first, you may not get number 1, you may get number 365, so it’s double-random and called nationally by the birthday.
“18-25-year-olds are registered, but we call 20-year-olds first. So, it goes 20, 21, 22, all the way up to 25, 18- to 19-year-olds would actually be the last ones called, if needed. A lot of folks don’t know that.”
Major Gen. Francis Evon, adjutant general for the Connecticut National Guard said there’s no immediate need for a draft but noted the “18-24-year-olds with a propensity to raise their right hand and serve in any branch is down significantly, the lowest since 1972.”
The military has suffered recruiting droughts in the past, such as during the surge years in Iraq, and is subject to many of the same macroeconomic conditions that affect civilian employers. For those concerned about a return of the draft, consider that the services have a variety of tools at hand such as increasing bonuses and incentives to entice volunteers. Even the hottest job markets must cool eventually.
One result of the difficult recruiting market may be cutting end-strength. A downsized standing force is easier to maintain but makes growing back force structure (units) and people a bigger and more time-consuming challenge.
For acting Selective Service System Associate Director for Operations Thomas “T.J.” Kenney, registering is an act of civic service and patriotism, but it is not necessarily about military service.
“A lot of people think that you are putting a rifle and a uniform in someone’s hands, but that’s not what registration is all about,” said Kenney. “We always look at registration as a young person’s time to say, ‘hey the country could need me someday and I’m registering and understanding that if there ever is a draft I could be called,’ so it is almost a rite of passage.”
Smith recalled his mother as a source of his belief in serving the community, “She had to be hard but she also had to show me where to learn compassion, so she would take me to church, she would get me involved in the community and give back and those were the ways that I built relationships so that she would never be worried about us if she were away at work. We were always surrounded by community.”
In Connecticut, men 18-25 can register online at https://www.sss.gov/register/
or through the mail, but they are now automatically registered with Selective Service when applying for a driver’s license.