Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Teaching Young Men about Their Military Obligation, 1967

Teaching Young Men about Their Military Obligation, 1967

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 17, 2009

In 1967, the MIA program for young LDS men included a lesson that hasn’t been part of the program for many years, at least in the United States: On the third week of September that year, the young men were taught about their military service obligations and the possibility of coordinating that obligation with other personal goals, such as college and marriage, and religious goals, such as serving a mission.

Project Guide

The privilege of citizenship in this land is coupled, as all privilege, with equal responsibility. Under current federal law, this responsibility for the youth of this nation imposes a six-year military obligation. this discussion is designed to give a broad overview of the military programs as they exist at this time. For more detailed and timely information, the group leader may wish to call upon resource individuals, such as Selective Service board members, reserve officers, retired military personnel, or a high school vocational counselor.

Military Obligation

Each young American, upon reaching age eighteen, automatically becomes a part of the manpower pool to which this nation looks to meet its military needs. By law, every male citizen and immigrant is required to register with the nearest Selective Service local board within five days after reaching his eighteenth birthday, and from then until he is over the age of liability for military service it will be his responsibility to maintain contact with his local board and keep them aware of his current address and any major change in his personal life (marriage, children, occupation, schooling, etc.) in order that appropriate decisions may be made concerning his military service. Once a young man realizes his responsibility regarding military service, he would do well to intelligently plan for this part of his life. In making his plans it is well for him to remember that by serving in the military and fulfilling his obligation, he may find it to be a very satisfactory mutual proposition – he will serve and at the same time gain and grow while he is doing it.

Types of Military Service

As an alternative to being assigned indiscriminately to a military service by the Selective Service System [i.e., draft board], large numbers of the youth of America will enter the armed forces in one of the many programs offered by the various services. Enlistment procedures for all branches of the armed forces are similar. However, programs offered by the services differ in length of enlistment and also in opportunities for specific training and assignments.

Very detailed information was charted for the young men’s consideration: The various branches of the service; range of ages accepted in each; length of active duty for various types of assignments; eligibility requirements and restrictions (i.e., some opportunities were limited to college students; others to those who lived within a designated distance of reserve unit headquarters); officer programs; aviation training, and so on. Leaders were charged with keeping abreast of any changes to such programs made since the material was compiled (February 1967).

One of the greatest decisions each young man had to make was whether or not to wait for the draft or to enlist voluntarily.

Those who desired or expected to serve found a few practical advantages to volunteering:

* Eliminating the uncertainty of waiting for the draft, i.e., being able to choose your own time, place, and type of service
* Taking care of military obligation first, then continuing with plans for a mission or school
* Choosing a special branch or service and type of training
* Taking advantage of the benefits accruing to the veteran after serving on active duty

Some practical advantages of deferring the decision to enlist were given, most seemingly for those who would prefer to postpone, minimize, or avoid military duty:

* Completing some college training or a mission before reaching the age currently being drafted
* Qualifying for additional deferment on the basis of college enrollment and other measures
* Providing for a shorter period of active reserve service by going in for two years through the draft
* Expecting the Selective Service regulations or demands for quotas to be less demanding at some future date

Some Questions and Answers

Q. Why do young men face military service obligations?
A. Under present world conditions, our government feels it has no other alternative than to maintain adequate national defenses while working for an enduring world peace.

Q. What age group is subject to the draft?
A. Young men between the ages of eighteen-and-one-half and twenty-six.

Q. What exceptions are made?
A. Those who aren’t mentally and/or physically qualified are exempt.

Q. How long a period is a young man obliged to perform military service?
A. At least six years of various combinations of active and reserve duty.

Q. What fundamental choice does a young man have in fulfilling military obligations?
A. The choice is whether to take voluntary action in planning his future or just sit back until the draft board sends him his “Greetings.”

Q. By what birth date must a young man register with his draft board?
A. On his eighteenth birthday or within five days thereafter.

Q. Is he then eligible to be drafted?
A. Not until he has been given a physical examination and classified.

Q. Can you volunteer for any of the armed services after you have received notice to report for induction?
A. No, but any time up until then.

Q. May you volunteer for one of the various services after you have received your preinduction examination?
A. Yes.

Q. If you volunteer, do you have the choice of service?
A. yes, but the day you hear from your draft board to report for induction there is no longer any choice.

The formal lesson concluded with this statement:

It’s Your Decision

Fulfilling your military obligation is not easy, but the benefits gained while doing something for your family, community and country can far outweigh the hardships. It can change your whole life and give you better understanding of others. It can make you angry, disappoint you and cause disgust. You alone will determine its effect on you. You alone can make this decision … to fulfill your “… duty to country.”

Apart from how you may feel about military service, then or now, how does that strike you as far as helping young men understand their legal and moral obligations and options? Do any of you old enough remember discussions like this? In the absence of a draft, are young men still given any counsel through the church program regarding the option of military service, or is that left strictly to personal preparation?



  1. Yep, you said it: “One of the greatest decisions each young man had to make was whether or not to wait for the draft or to enlist voluntarily.” A great decision, with monumental repercussions.

    You ask how we feel the lesson helps young men understand their legal and moral obligations and options? I found the whole thing to be remarkably candid and down-to-earth. I was impressed. (I wondered what instigated the lesson? Some sort of request from the Selective Service System? Or just a wise decision on the part of the MIA curriculum?)

    I would have to double check the manuals, but I don’t remember anything — anything — about military service in the current young men’s program.

    Comment by Hunter — July 17, 2009 @ 9:00 am

  2. Military service had been such a central component in the lives of the WWII generation I am not surprised it was something they could pass on as they took on the roles of leadership within the church.

    Comment by Eric Boysen — July 17, 2009 @ 9:16 am

  3. So, no lessons in the manuals about moving to Canada? (j/k)

    Comment by queuno — July 17, 2009 @ 9:51 am

  4. Ardis, I remember this as it impacted my older brothers and their friends, and me somewhat less a few years later.

    In the mid to late 60’s, there were complaints that LDS young men were going on missions to avoid being drafted, and so the church, I believe in 1966 or 1967 began limiting the number of full time missionaries from each ward to a total of not more than 2 per year. In some wards, that wasn’t much of a problem, but in other wards with 15 or 20 draft eligible young men, many had to face the questions about this sort of planning more urgently.

    I spent two years as YM president about 5 years ago, and nothing I can recall even approached this topic. It did come up, though, as one of our young men was definitely interested in joining the Army, and becoming a Ranger. His father was opposed to it, but the young man was determined. We talked about his decision more in terms of “career planning” than specifically about military service, but otherwise, I doubt it would have come up in class discussions at all.

    Comment by kevinf — July 17, 2009 @ 11:52 am

  5. How times have changed. I think that if you polled YM and their leaders today, military service would be discouraged, at least until after the mission has been completed.

    Comment by queuno — July 17, 2009 @ 12:52 pm

  6. The issue in the 1960’s was that if you were not one of the two lucky young men to be allowed to put in missionary papers, and were not in school with a student deferment, you were first in line for the draft. This sort of advice would have been invaluable, so the young men could choose a branch of the service, and perhaps even what kind of service (ie, some service that provided vocational training, such as diesel mechanic or radio technician).

    There were certainly choices that you could make that would limit your chances of going to visit Vietnam, whereas a draft notice pretty much guaranteed it. I find it interesting that for all the conservative political expressions in support of the Vietnam war by LDS members in Utah, the reality was that few of these parents really wanted their sons to actually go there and fight.

    As for me, I had a student deferment from 1970 to 1972, when I opted out of school for a year, and decided to take my chances with the draft lottery. I took the extra precaution of going through all the steps, including a physical, testing, etc, in anticipation of joining a reserve engineering battalion. However, I got a high draft number that pretty much assured me I wouldn’t be drafted, so I didn’t join the reserves, and after 1972, my eligibility under the draft law of the time said that I was no longer in the pool of potential draftees.

    Comment by kevinf — July 17, 2009 @ 1:11 pm

  7. Ardis, you have almost presented the story of one of the pivotal experiences of my life. Few who participate in this blog will recall President Truman’s pounding the desk in the oval office for what he called “Universal Military Training”. It would consist of six months of basic and advanced training and several years in the reserves. That plan failed to get a start in congress, but in 1948, with Stalin rattling several million swords, the Selective Service Act of 1948 passed which upped the time to 21 months and then reserve service. Everyone 18 and a half was subject to the draft. Deferments were supposed to be few and far between. I was just barely of the draft age and with the encouragement of a local recruiting officer and a year of college under my belt, I took the plunge for two years, which included a “promise” of choice of specialized training. Once I was in basic training at Fort Lewis, I was informed by the old soldiers that specialized training would probably be that I would learn to field-strip an M-1 rifle in 45 seconds.
    That was easy to believe because with hunting as a favorite pastime of my youth, I had the highest range score among the trainees in the 2nd Infantry Division (23,000) men.)

    But somehow my college courses and some guardian angel sent me to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, the army’s engineer school to learn topographical drafting and surveying. I continued at that base with additional training until my two years were up just before June 25, 1950 and I was looking forward to a planned future. Kim Il Sung and again Mr. Truman interfered and my enlistment was unilaterally extended for a year. Off to Korea to service in Engineering Intelligence added to my experience, forced a more mature approach to life, and finally a GI Bill for Korea vets “made all the difference” from then until now.

    Yet, if the turmoil in today’s world caused a reinstatement of selective service, I would not be sure how to advise young people how to deal with the challenge of military service. In reality, I hope we never have to induct young people again.

    Comment by Curt A. — July 17, 2009 @ 1:58 pm

  8. Hunter, I’m pretty sure this was a lesson that the YMMIA general board saw a need for, not something requested by the government. Those of us whose young adult lives came after the all-volunteer army was established might not realize what a serious decision this was in the life of virtually every young Mormon man. queuno and Eric, like you both, I associate this topic with men who came of age during World War II or its aftermath.

    kevinf and Curt A., thanks especially for your memories and evaluation. Frankly, I wasn’t sure how well this article would play. While we have as a whole such good feeling and support for our soldiers themselves — witness so many of the posts on S. Faux’s excellent blog — we still have such hard feelings about Vietnam itself that I was afraid this might have dredged those up. Thanks, all, for not refighting that era.

    The YMMIA of that generation seemed to include far more practical topics for discussion than I see in, say, the New Era (which is really my only window into the world of the Young Men now). Today we have Sunday lessons for spiritual instruction, and weekday activities for recreation and sports and adventure, but how often do we give Young Men a serious discussion of the practical decisions they will soon have to make? (I’m not saying we don’t do that — I’m asking.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 17, 2009 @ 3:17 pm

  9. My gf left some detailed journals, including of his time in WWII, that my aunt compiled in a very extensive life history. I’m going to dig out the book this weekend and look up some of his WWII entries.

    I think Vietnam has done a lot to color my generation’s views on military service (let’s say I’m 35). I think Iraq has done a lot to color my children’s generations views on military service.

    There was a time, I think, when Church leaders viewed military service as just as adequate preparation as missionary service (after all, Monson didn’t serve a mission, and neither did Packer, I don’t think). I don’t think that’s the case anymore. A YM in our ward joined the Marine Corps last summer, and his parents and leaders were *devastated*, because he hadn’t gone on a mission yet. Former vets in our ward who serve in the YW or teach SS have been very vocal in advocating military service only after a mission has been served.

    Comment by queuno — July 17, 2009 @ 3:41 pm

  10. gf = Grandfather, not girlfriend, if not clear from the context.

    Comment by queuno — July 17, 2009 @ 3:42 pm

  11. (let’s say I’m 35).

    And this part of the comment got chopped. I was trying to make a comment about being older than 35 but less than 40, and I forgot that the gt/lt symbols don’t go through.

    Comment by queuno — July 17, 2009 @ 3:43 pm

  12. Ardis, in response to your question in # 8 about practical instruction, I’d have to say there is very little of anything formal. Sunday lessons are from the dated AP instruction manuals (most of the quotes are from GAs in the 70’s and 80’s) or from Preach My Gospel, which is great instruction on things like being a good example, scripture study and prayer, and how to be a good missionary.

    Anything relating to career planning, education, and other practical stuff is somewhat covered under some of the objectives of the Duty to God program, but again, I don’t recall much in the way of formal curriculum or materials. This from the perspective of someone who has been out of that program for about three or four years.

    It’s pretty much left up to the ward or stake AP/YM to come up with appropriate materials and planning. So far, it seems to work better at developing basketball skillz, than education or career stuff.

    Comment by kevinf — July 17, 2009 @ 4:22 pm

  13. My husband was drafted shortly after he returned from his mission and we met two years later shortly after he finished his active duty stint. The first two years I knew him he spent two weeks a year at summer camp and an evening every week in the active reserves, then two years in the inactive reserves. He received his separation papers just days before a freeze was put on all separations because of the Cuban Missile Crisis. We were both glad to be done with it.

    On the other end we have 13 grandsons between 11 and 20 years old. I am consistenly trying to get there first and as frequently and as strongly as the military recruiters to not sign anything until you are back from your mission. My version of life planning is to work hard enough to get a scholarship for at least your first year of college (so far all of them have done it who are old enough) get a year of college in, then go on your mission and then if the military still looks attractive to you, you will have a lot more basis for making an intelligent decision. I do think some people feel called to the military–including a couple of these dear young men in my life, but I do hope they will wait. And I do think I have some influence with them.

    Comment by Marjorie Conder — July 17, 2009 @ 5:10 pm

  14. There was a time, I think, when Church leaders viewed military service as just as adequate preparation as missionary service

    I have heard that it wasn’t a matter of preparation, but of time: the young men who had spent three or four or more years in the military service were advised that they need not feel themselves under obligation to devote yet another two to three years to missionary service. (Many foreign language missions were two and one-half years at that time, and Japanese language missions were three years.)

    Ardis, I’ll let you track down the official statement of that policy–I heard it from my dad, who spent three years in the army, was discharged in summer 1946, about five months after he turned 20, and chose to serve a mission despite the policy. (Maybe things would have been different had he been 23 or 24. And certainly would have been if that lovely Viennese girl had shown some willingness to convert from the Catholicism of her youth to Mormonism.)

    Comment by Mark B. — July 17, 2009 @ 6:07 pm

  15. oday we have Sunday lessons for spiritual instruction, and weekday activities for recreation and sports and adventure, but how often do we give Young Men a serious discussion of the practical decisions they will soon have to make?

    Done properly (and from all I can tell, the wards in my stake do it properly), YW is about Scouting and Duty to God, not about recreation and sports (our ward has a terrible basketball team, which practices only when the stake insists on having a tournament).

    There are ample opportunities in the Scouting and DTG programs to focus on career planning, etc.

    (Frankly, what concerns me is the lack of career planning in the YW program, now that I have a daughter there and can observe it better.)

    Comment by queuno — July 17, 2009 @ 11:13 pm

  16. Whoops! I meant that *YM* is about Scouting and DTG.

    Comment by queuno — July 17, 2009 @ 11:16 pm

  17. Going through the YM program in the late 80s and early 90’s, I don’t think there was anything in any of the manuals about military service. Several guys from my priests quorum enlisted (family tradition), and the bishop had specific materials and counsel from SLC to give them before they went to Basic Training, but that was after the decision had been made. There was nothing for the entire quorum.

    Re#12, Career planning used to be part of scouting’s “Explorer” program for 16-17 year olds, but the Church has now moved to the BSA “Venture” program, which eliminates career planning on weeknight activities.

    Re #9: I do think that there was a time when military service was seen as an acceptable substitute to missionary service. (And still is in some areas. Most of the wards I have lived in print the servicemen’s address along with the missionaries in the ward bulletin; a few have even made plaques for the soldiers that hang in the foyers next to the elders.) But from what I’ve seen, the military doesn’t provide the focused spiritual training the Church wants YM to experience. So they’ve moved away from that.
    That said, I had several cousins and missionary companions that joined the service at 18 and received a two-year deferrment for their missions. In every case, the military sent them regular letters their entire mission reminding them of their future obligation.

    Comment by Clark — July 19, 2009 @ 11:23 am

  18. But from what I’ve seen, the military doesn’t provide the focused spiritual training

    It doesn’t?? Gee, after just reading the real meaning behind the acronyms SNAFU, JANFU, FUBAR, etc. (which, if you can’t guess, are not printable in a family blog like this one), I couldn’t have guessed that the military didn’t provide a wonderful, rich, spiritual atmosphere. :-)

    Comment by Mark B. — July 19, 2009 @ 3:10 pm

  19. I was reading my grandfather’s life history last night, and he went into WWII right after his mission (he commented in one letter home during WWII how he had, except for a few short months, been gone for over 5 years).

    It seemed easy to tell his preference: Missionary work. Then again, he was a missionary first and then became a soldier. Inferred in his letters was that there could be no reverse order — one wouldn’t qualify for a mission later if he’d been serving as a soldier at 19.

    Comment by queuno — July 19, 2009 @ 3:33 pm

  20. the Church has now moved to the BSA “Venture” program, which eliminates career planning on weeknight activities.

    I’m curious as to how well the Venturing program has infiltrated LDS units. My statistically unsound surveys of friends’ units suggests that the only boys who actively participate in Venturing (where it’s offered) are either the children of hard-core Scouters or 16- and 17-year-olds who haven’t finished their Eagle yet. Generally speaking, if a boy has earned his Eagle at 15, by the time he’s a priest he’s only participating in DTG activities or social activities as a YM.

    Comment by queuno — July 19, 2009 @ 3:35 pm

  21. Joseph Fielding Smith had three sons who were soldiers (one KIA), and his letters are always filled with concern that his boys stay worthy to serve missions following their discharge. I’ll post a few of those, one of these days.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 19, 2009 @ 3:36 pm


    An interesting discussion of the Church’s dilemma and turning point relative to national military service can be found in Robert C. Freeman, (Ed.), “Nineteenth Century Saints at War” published by BYU’s Religious Studies Center in 2006. The pertinent section of the book was written by James I. Mangum, pages 151-193.

    In 1898, A major question and debate came about as the “baby” state of Utah, just two years old, was asked to support the nation in going to war with Spain in Cuba and the Philippines. President Wilford Woodruff foresaw the separation of the Church from national service an impediment to its future growth and that the Church needed to support the government. Others, including and led by Brigham Young, Jr. of the Twelve, B.H. Roberts, and other prominent leaders, strongly opposed the idea. The April 1898 conference included some talks on the issue. Eventually, President Woodruff made it clear that he was acting as President of the Church in calling for the national loyalty of the LDS people. Utah sent its national guard units into the conflict as soon as it became a reality. Young men of the Church were urged to volunteer. This action was an order of magnitude greater than the miniscule effort provided in the Civil War with Lot Smith’s mail patrol in 1862. In Cuba and the Philippines, members of the Church served with distinction in many battles and skirmishes, with some being killed, wounded and dying of disease.

    Comment by Curt A. — July 19, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

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