People Are Panicking About Military Draft, Stop-Loss and IRR Activation. Here's the Reality

Marine drill instructor Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego
Sgt. Michael Bachicha, senior drill instructor, Receiving Company, Recruit Training Regiment, corrects a recruit in the contraband room during receiving April 23, 2012 aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Bridget M. Keane)

The day after a U.S. airstrike took out a prominent Iranian general in Iraq, the Selective Service System's website crashed.

"World War III" was trending on Twitter. Young people on social media were wondering whether ignoring that fine print on their federal student loan applications was going to land them in boot camp.

"We fat guys are safe. For now," one person joked on Twitter.

Some apparently flooded the Selective Service's website to see if they'd registered for the draft.

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"Due to the spread of misinformation, our website is experiencing high traffic volumes at this time. If you are attempting to register or verify registration, please check back later today as we are working to resolve this issue," the Selective Service tweeted Friday. "We appreciate your patience."

Veterans were musing about orders coming down to pluck them out of the Individual Ready Reserve. Others worried stop-loss orders, which have required some troops to stay in uniform beyond their end of contract date, would be making a comeback. One person said stop-loss orders "kept military families in turmoil" after 9/11. checked in with a military personnel expert and historian to help cut through the confusion and find out what is -- and what isn't -- likely when it comes to the draft, stop-loss and recalling veterans to service.

1. The Draft Isn't Coming Back Without an Act of Congress.

The authority to draft men into the military ran out in 1973. Now, Congress would have to pass a measure to bring it back and the president would need to sign it into law, said Debra Wada, a former Army manpower leader serving as vice chair of the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service.

Congress tasked the commission with looking at a host of issues concerning the Selective Service, including whether it's needed anymore and if women should be required to register.

"The House and Senate would both have to pass a piece of legislation and, as we've seen in the last couple of years ... I'll let people make their own personal determination of whether that is likely to happen," she said.

2. Registration Doesn't Mean You're Headed to War.

Men between the ages of 18 and 25 are required by law to register for the Selective Service. Failing to do so comes with lifelong penalties, such as a prohibition from getting federal jobs and ineligibility for some student loans.

Most men who register do so through "passive means," Wada said, such as getting a driver's license or applying for federal student aid. Drafting these individuals into the military would not only take that act of Congress to put the policy back into place, but would also require their number to be called during a lottery system.

Wada added that her commission found evidence of a lot of confusion and misinformation about the draft. Having the Selective Service's website crash as misinformation spread online indicates that more clarity is needed on the registration process, she added. That's one of the topics she and the other members of the commission have been weighing.

"Maybe we can help educate the American public as to what selective service is and the differences between the registration portion of it and then the actual draft itself," Wada said.

3. The Draft Would Be a Last-Resort Option.

Richard Kohn, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who studies war and the military, said any proposal to reinstate the draft is likely to be "one of the most unpopular proposals presented to the Congress in many years."

If the U.S. were facing a serious threat that required large numbers of ground troops, Kohn said it's possible support for a draft could grow. But the U.S. is "nowhere near that now," he added, even after Iran vowed retaliation for the killing of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

The military also lacks the infrastructure to train a bunch of new recruits, Kohn said.

Wada's committee hasn't decided whether it'll recommend the Selective Service remain in place, but she describes the draft as a "break glass in case of emergency" option.

4. Stop-Loss Orders Are Possible, But Likely Not for Everyone.

In times of conflict, the military has been able to hold onto some troops past their contractually agreed-to separation dates.

The measure is called a stop-loss order, which leaders have used after 9/11, during the Gulf War and in other recent times of conflict.

Wada, who served as the Army's assistant secretary for Manpower and Reserve Affairs from 2014 to 2017, said the orders remain a "tool in the toolbox." The reason military leaders are likely to turn to those forces before tapping veterans in the IRR or calling for a draft, she said, is because they're the most ready of the bunch.

"You want to keep the people who currently have the skill sets and have been training," Wada said.

Unless there's a massive war though, Kohn said it's likely the Defense Department would only turn to troops in certain specialties, such as those serving in intelligence or surveillance units.

5. An IRR Recall Would Also Likely Target Certain Specialties.

That's also likely to be the case should military leaders ever turn to the IRR to bulk back up, Wada said. Those in the IRR have left active service, but aren't assigned to any sort of drilling Reserve units.

Wada said military leaders are likely to leverage other military personnel first, though, before turning to the IRR. And it would likely only be to fill shortages in certain communities.

They might need cyber warriors, for example, she said, to combat the types of threats coming from a country such as Iran.

"But they would call up the Reserves and the National Guard before they call up the people in IRR," she added.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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