Robert Morgan / The Town Talk – 2004-11-19 08:41:40
ALEXANDRIA, LA (November 13, 2004) — There may be no “plans” for a national military draft, but that hasn’t kept Louisiana from registering teenagers too young to serve in case conditions change. During the recently concluded presidential campaigns, the major candidates repeatedly said they had no plans to resume compulsory military service.
Their promises were not reassuring, however, to Larry Chevalier of Glenmora who was alarmed when his 16-year-old son Nathan had to register with the Selective Service System in order to get a driver’s license.
Selective Service is the agency charged with collecting names and information about all 18-year-old American and immigrant men for possible conscription.
“I just can’t believe it. That amazes me,” Chevalier said. What “amazed” Chevalier was that his son would not be eligible to serve in the military for another two years.
And neither he nor his son knew before going to the Office of Motor Vehicles that Natan would be required to pre-register for the draft in order to get his first driver’s license, he said.
After questioning the early registration, Chevalier researched the issue and learned the Legislature passed Act 373 in the 2003 session dictating that all males aged 15 up to 18 seeking a first-time driver’s license or an OMV identification card must register with Selective Service.
Chevalier’s concerns were not wholly shared by young men attending a YMCA-sponsored driver’s education course. After being informed of the new condition for getting a first-time license, some of the teenagers only shrugged. “I don’t care,” Mark Fontenot, a 16-year-old student at Apostolic Christian Academy, said. Pineville High School student Josh Stokes, 15, said, “I think it’s good.’ But neither student would elaborate on his view.
Stephen White, 16 and a student at Alexandria Senior High School, may have summed up the feelings of others when he said, “I think it’s all right. I can’t do anything about it anyway.”
Chevalier suggested there should be something youngsters can “do about it.”
“I don’t know what rights as far as civil liberties that minors have, but I think their rights are being violated,” he said.
Rudy Sanchez, general counsel for the federal Selective Service System, said, “I don’t know the rationale for that. Louisiana shouldn’t be registering 15-year-olds. We don’t even register 16-year-olds.”
Sanchez pointed out federal law only provides for “early submission” of information by a young man who is at least 17 years and three months old. That information is held until the person becomes 18 when it is forwarded to the proper database, he said.
Otherwise, young men are required by law to register as early as 30 days prior to reaching age 18 and no later than 30 days after their birthday.
Other states have passed laws requiring young men to register with Selective Service when they get a driver’s license, he said. But he said no other state requires males as young as 15 to register. And the information is not supposed to be forwarded to the federal agency until the young men reach 18 years old.
He said there is no mechanism for collecting data on males younger than 17 years and three months.
That claim was disputed by Everett Bonner, state director of Selective Service. “They do accept it. I can promise you. They do not process it until the young man turns 18,” Bonner said, adding information collected by OMV is forwarded to a federal data management center in Chicago.
He said registering young men when they get their drivers’ licenses is a convenience for the registrant and a way to help them later in life.
Many young men do not know they are required to register with SSS, particularly in the inner cities, he said. Anyone failing to register is “considered a felon without conviction,” he said, adding it can lead to future loss of opportunities and benefits. Someone who does not register for the draft cannot get a federal government job, he said.
Chevalier questioned how the state can force a minor child to “sign on the dotted line” without his parents’ consent. “As far as a minor child, the parents are responsible for that minor child,” he said.
Bonner said, however, the parents have to sign for a minor to get a driver’s license and that should suffice for the draft registration as well. “What I don’t like is somebody having all this information about kids and somebody sitting up there in some private meeting discussing how many young people they have available for the draft in two years,” Chevalier said.
While the US may be involved in military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq now, “we have Syria, Iran and North Korea sitting out there,” he said. Bonner said, “I would venture to say the federal government has all sorts of information about us through various sources. If someone thinks it’s ‘Big Brother,’ he’ll have to deal with that.”