Will There Be a Military Draft as Tensions Escalate With Iran? What You Need to Know

As tensions escalate with Iran, questions abound about the military draft works.

Questions and false information about the U.S. military draft have pinged across the internet ever since top Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani was killed in an airstrike.

So many people swamped the Selective Service website last week, it crashed. The Army was forced to issue an alert this week after fake social media messages went out telling people they must report to a Florida recruiting office "for immediate departure to Iran" or face six years in jail. 

"U.S. Army Recruiting Command has received multiple calls and emails about these fake text messages and wants to ensure Americans understand these texts are false and were not initiated by this command or the U.S. Army," officials said Wednesday, a day after Iran retaliated by launching more than a dozen missiles at two military installations in Iraq.

The Army released a disclaimer after fake draft notices abounded on social media. - U.S. Army Recruiting Command

Fake tweets also went out under a realistic-looking President Trump account, stating "Draft starts tomorrow." Some were retweeted more than 79,000 times.


So how would a military draft really work? And who would have to serve?

How Did the Draft Come to Be?

Conscription began during the Revolutionary War when the 13 colonies used militias for defense. The first national draft occurred during the Civil War, though most of the troops were volunteers. Both sides allowed draftees to pay men as substitutes. The draft was also used in both world wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

During the 1968 presidential campaign, Richard Nixon said he would end the draft if elected. But once in office, he faced opposition from Congress and the Pentagon and conscription continued. The last draft in the United States occurred in December 1972. In 1976, President Jimmy Carter pardoned every man who dodged the military draft. 

Nonetheless, U.S. males between the ages of 18 and 25 are still required to register with the draft board, and benefits such as college financial aid are contingent on that registration. Men who don't sign up are barred from federal government jobs.

Since 1973, men and women entering the armed forces have been volunteers. Currently, there are an estimated 1.2 million active-duty troops.

"A lot of people have misinformation, or we conflate both registration and the draft as one, and they are sort of two distinct processes," Debra Wada, a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Army. "One is that you are required as an 18- to-25-year-old male to register for a potential draft. "And the second is ... once the legislation and law is passed, then the draft process begins."

What Would it Take to Reinstate a Draft?

An act of Congress signed by President Trump would be necessary for the Select Service Administration to begin calling people to involuntary service. Historically, it has been used only in extreme wartime emergencies, and none of the gulf wars qualified as such. 

Who is Exempt?

Basically, any man aged 26 or older, though there is precedent for extending the age requirement. In World War I, for example, conscription was amended to require all men between the ages of 18 and 45 to register.

All women are exempt, though the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service has been studying whether to include women in registration requirements. In 2015, the Department of Defense ruled women were eligible for all combat duties.

Transgender males are also exempt, but not transgender women. Others who are exempted include young men in hospitals and mental institutions, some handicapped people and seasonal agricultural workers.