Carolinas rank low in draft registration

Many 18-year-olds don't bother to comply with Selective Service

July 04, 2000|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Federal law says Kidd Thongvilay was supposed to register for the military draft two years ago. He hasn't.

"I guess I just don't feel like it. Easy as that," said Thongvilay, 20, whose family came to the United States from Southeast Asia. "There's no point in it. I figure most of the time [the military is] fighting wars that aren't even theirs. I'm not going to put my life on the line for a war that's not even theirs."

With Vietnam, the military draft and even the Cold War little more than words in a history book for a generation that grew up in the 1990s, growing ranks of young men in the Carolinas and across the country are ignoring federal law and not registering with the Selective Service System.

Waning registration is a national problem, but it's of particular concern to Selective Service officials in the Carolinas. South Carolina's registration rate ranks among the bottom eight states in the nation, with 79 percent of men born in 1980 registering for the draft in 1999, according to a recent Selective Service report.

Although North Carolina's rate is higher, with about 84 percent registering, most Charlotte-area counties fall below the national average of 83 percent for men turning 20 this year.

In the study released in May, the agency looked at the number of men born in 1980 who registered in 1999. It divided states into three categories: states with 70 percent or more registering, 80 percent or more and 90 percent or more.

Registration is available online atwww.sss.gov or at any post office. Selective Service also mails registration cards to men on their 18th birthdays.

Col. Keith Scragg, the Selective Service director for 15 Southern states, said today's young men simply grew up in different times. Men in the 18- to 25-year-old age group required to register now weren't even born until after Vietnam ended, he said.

"A lot of it is ignorance of the requirement on their part," he said.

Federal law requires all male U.S. residents to register when they turn 18. Failure is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

"There have been no prosecutions for failure to register in a long, long time," said Donald Shaw, Selective Service director in North Carolina. "There's no tooth behind it now."

The last time anyone was prosecuted was in 1985, he said. The last year men were drafted was 1973.

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