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Editorial: NM needs to re-up Selective Service registration efforts

If a straw poll of high school and college-age young men in New Mexico were conducted, how many would know that they’re required by law – on penalty of a quarter-million bucks in fines and five years’ imprisonment – to register for Selective Service between the ages of 18 and 26?

Our guess: Many wouldn’t.

A Dec. 1 story by Journal reporter Scott Turner noted that only about 55% of 18-year-olds in New Mexico are registering for Selective Service. The takeaways from that dismal showing/clear flouting of federal law?

• In a state with as strong a military presence as ours, that apathy, lack of patriotism or simply not knowing is just sad.

• In 2019, the Selective Service policy is woefully outdated. With the technologies that exist today – remote-controlled vehicles, drones, robots, satellites, lasers, etc. – is a massive call-up via a draft even a realistic possibility? (The U.S. went to a volunteer military in 1973.)

• If Congress deems a draft still necessary, why are only men age 18 to 25 required to register? We have had women in the military since the Revolutionary War, in combat zones in support roles since the Civil War, and in combat since the Persian Gulf War in 1991. As one letter writer asked: Are our sons more expendable than their sisters?

And since 2017 under the Trump administration we ban transgender people from military service, though those assigned male at birth are still required to register with Selective Service.

While it will take a serious push at the federal level to instill real equity and inclusion in our military, New Mexico should do its part to get residents to comply with federal law now – because these young men have a lot on the line, even if they don’t know it.

So good for John Caldwell – who heads New Mexico’s Selective Service office – for proactively trying to get registrars in N.M. high schools and talking to the Motor Vehicle Department about issuing teens driver’s licenses that expire 30 days after they turn 18. (That would get them in the door to register at the same time they’re-up their driving privileges.)

Caldwell points out there can be serious consequences to not registering. Apart from the possible prison sentence and fine – which are admittedly rarely if ever enforced – students can also be denied federal financial aid for college or federal jobs, a big deal here in government-sector-heavy New Mexico. Then there’s the macro-vision: While it’s been decades since a draft was instituted, Selective Service is the U.S. military’s way of being one step ahead should – God forbid – the need ever arise again to massively and quickly call Americans into military service.

New Mexico, like many states, requires men 18 to 25 who are supposed to be registered to consent to automatic registration when they apply for a state driver’s license or renewal, permit, or state I.D. card. A few states – including Texas and Utah – go a step further, requiring men to be in compliance with Selective Service registration before they receive state student financial aid. Texas is also one of a handful of states where not registering when required could prevent you from getting a state government job.

The word needs to get out. And until the law is changed, young men need to register.

No young New Mexicans deserve to have doors closed because they didn’t know they were supposed to register for a program that’s been inactive for decades.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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