A century has passed since The Selective Service Act of 1917 allowed the government to rapidly grow the Army to enter World War I. The Act stated that all males 18 to 45 were required to register for the draft lottery. By the end of the war, over 2 million men volunteered and 2.8 million had been drafted to serve.


Due to the previous issues with the Draft Act of 1863, the government changed the option of draft buy-outs, and hiring substitutes for the 1917 Act. These changes were easily accepted by the population because of the high spirit of patriotism during World War I.


Since Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States of America in 1898, Congress also opened the draft to Puerto Ricans as part of the Jones-Shafroth Act. The Act granted all residents of the island U.S. citizenship and allowed them to reject it voluntarily within the first six months. Of the almost 1.2 million residents on the island, only 288 rejected it. Even though the United States did not enter the war until 1917, the United States’ first shot was fired in the Odenwald incident in 1915 by the Puerto Rican regiment. It is estimated that 235,000 Puerto Ricans registered for the World War I draft and that 18,000 served in the war. However, it is possible that more served, because the Hispanic population was not counted separately in the U.S national census at the time.


Here were the different draft categories for the Selective Service Act 1917:

  • Class I.  Eligible and liable for military service
    • Unmarried registrants with no dependents
    • Married registrants with independent spouse and / or one or more dependent children over 16 with sufficient family income if drafted
  • Class II. Temporarily deferred, but available for military service
    • Married registrants with dependent spouse and / or dependent children under 16 with sufficient family income if drafted
  • Class III. Temporarily exempted, but available for military service
    • Local officials
    • Registrants who provide sole family income for dependent parents and / or dependent siblings under 16
    • Registrants employed in agricultural labor or industrial enterprises essential to the war effort
  • Class IV. Exempted due to extreme hardship
    • Married registrants with dependent spouse and / or dependent children with insufficient family income if drafted
    • Registrants with deceased spouse who provide sole family income for dependent children under 16
    • Registrants with deceased parents who provide sole family income for dependent siblings under 16
  • Class V. Exempted or ineligible for induction into military service
    • State or Federal officials
    • Officers and enlisted men in the military or naval service of the United States
    • Licensed pilots employed in the pursuit of their vocation
    • Members of the clergy
    • Students who on or before May 18, 1917 had been preparing for the ministry in a recognized theological or divinity school
    • Registrants who were deemed either medically disabled (permanently, physically, and / or mentally unfit) or “morally unfit” for military service
    • Registrants shown to have been convicted of any crime designated as treason or felony, or an “infamous” crime
    • Enemy aliens and resident aliens

The United States military has changed tremendously since World War I. One the biggest changes occurred in 1973 when the Selective Service announced there would be no more draft calls, and the military would be an all-volunteer force. Today, over a million men and women have and are currently volunteering to protect our country. The United States maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and territories abroad. Due the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, the U.S. military continues to be the world’s strongest military.


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