Uncle Sam Wants Who?

With their internecine squabbles and heated rhetoric, community-board meetings often feel like battlegrounds. But on a recent Wednesday morning, a summit of Bronx-board chairs has taken on a truly martial mood. “If, God forbid, we did go to war and the draft did come back,” Major John Corr, a 35-year-old National Guardsman wearing neat civvies, tells the half-full conference room in the Bronx Supreme Court Building, “it’s very important that young men who can’t serve are able to make their cases to people who come from their own community.”

Among the many obsolete systems in danger of millennial meltdown, the Selective Service is hardly an object of widespread panic. But for the past two years, administrators have quietly been working to address an unlikely Y2K-compliance problem: a shortage of draft-board members. When Congress reinstated mandatory registration for 18-year-olds in 1980 – after the system had been in a five-year “deep standby” – it simultaneously re-created the nationwide network of civilian boards that would, in case of actual conscription, weed out the malingerers from the conscientious objectors.

Now, however, the twenty-year terms of many of the original board members are nearly up, and Selective Service is having trouble refilling the estimated 110 soon-to-be-vacant city posts. “We’re in a bit of a crunch right now,” admits Lieutenant Colonel Luis Rivera, executive officer of the system’s New York City detachment.

In response to the shortage, Rivera, Corr, and five colleagues have undertaken a full-scale assault, recruiting from the city’s community boards one by one. Their reception at the Bronx meeting is moderately friendly – a vast improvement over last month’s appearance before Manhattan Community Board 1, at which chairwoman Anne Compoccia dismissed the reservists with an incredulous “Is this normal?”

Rivera remains unfazed. “They’re non-compensated positions,” he admits, “but they are presidential appointments.” And in the end, even Compoccia filled out one of his applications.

Uncle Sam Wants Who?