College & the Military Draft

In the fall of 1969, I was a senior at Penn State University enjoying my last year of college and fraternity parties.  The U.S. Army was drafting young men to fill its need for soldiers in Vietnam.  Because I was a full time student in college, I had a student deferment that had kept me out of the draft for three years.  The deferment would terminate on my graduation in June of 1970, and I would then be eligible to be drafted.  My draft number was 183, a number selected at random by the U.S. Selective Service System by putting 366 birthdays in a jar and picking them out one by one.  My birthday was the 183rd pick, which gave me a draft lottery number of 183.

Each local draft board was given a quota of the number of draftees that were to be selected by the draft board to be inducted into the Army.  People who had a draft deferment for reasons such as college or medical problems were not eligible to be drafted.  From the pool of eligible potential draftees, the draft boards were obligated to draft starting with people whose draft lottery numbers were started at 1 and then proceed in order to lottery number 365 if necessary.  Because my number was in somewhat in the middle of lottery numbers, I was in a gray area.  I could not predict if I would be drafted or if my number was high enough to avoid the draft.

I decided to hedge my bet by applying for admission to USAF flight school.  If I got drafted and if I got into flight school, I would have the option to join the USAF and fly instead of being drafted into the Army and possibly being sent to Vietnam.  If I were drafted, I would have to serve two years in the Army.  I could also avoid the draft by volunteering for the Army and get a choice of what my job would be.  By volunteering, I could get a “safe” job such as computer programmer or cook, but volunteers had a three year active duty service commitment.  The Air Force commitment was three months of Officer Training School, one year of  flight school followed by five years of additional active duty.

The application process for becoming an Air Force officer and airplane driver was intense and took many months.  I first completed a lengthy application.  I passed the first round of cuts and had to take several tests such as an aptitude test, general knowledge and eye-hand coordination.  After passing the second round of tests, I was given a very comprehensive flight physical, including an eye exam.  A common mis-conception is that you cannot become a military pilot if you do not have 20/20 vision.  Only a select few (such as Air Force Academy cadets) know that it is possible to get a waiver of the 20/20 requirement from the Surgeon General of the Air Force.  I also had to complete a detailed Department of Defense questionnaire about my entire life, which would be used by the FBI to investigate me to determine if I was eligible to hold a Top Secret security clearance.  After passing the FBI background check, the last stage of the process was to be selected by a selection board.

I began the USAF application process in the fall of 1969, but did not get notice of my acceptance until May of 1970, about the same time I got a notice from my draft board to report for a draft physical.  When an Army recruiter told me that I had a good chance of being drafted into the Army and being sent to Vietnam, I elected to accept my USAF slot and go to Officer Training School and flight school.  I goofed off the summer of 1970 in Westport, Connecticut, were my parents lived.  In early September of 1970, I took the oath to protect and defend the constitution of the United States and became an E-4 (for pay purposes) and reported to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, for three months of OTS.

2012-04-07T15:24:26+00:00By |2 Comments

About the Author:

Rick Keyt has practiced law in Arizona since 1980. He flew the F-4 Phantom for five years in the United States Air Force, including combat missions over South Vietnam, North Vietnam and Laos in 1972. For more about Rick's bio including his F-4 bio see his resume on his law website. Connect with Richard at 480-664-7478 or on Google+


  1. bob wayne February 9, 2017 at 9:21 am - Reply

    I enjoyed reading your bio as it brought back memories of exactly what students and non students faced in that era with regard to the Vietnam war and the draft.
    My father was a thud driver and did three tours in Vietnam and I was an air force brat living in suburban DC in 1969. I graduated from high school and waited to see what my draft number would be before I decided to enroll in the local community college. My number was 232 but before the lottery drawing I was classified 1A and was contemplating whether to go to school at all or to join the service so as to avoid becoming a grunt and most assuredly being shipped to boot camp and then to Vietnam. I was called for my pre induction physical and the stage was set for me to choose. I was a bit younger than you but all of us at draft age had to face those choices. I do remember that at the time the reserves or the coastguard was an option which would allow one to avoid being sent to Vietnam because unlike in the Iraq wars, reservists were not sent to Vietnam and most of us considered it a better option than being drafted. Of course it became very hard to get into the reserves as a result. So I ended up going to school for a time until the college deferment was dropped. I dropped out of school and took a chance that I would not be called up but as you know 232 was a high enough number that I was not required to serve. I often reflect on that time given the rancor today in our politics around the military and the draft. I remember that all of the young men, boys really, had to face those same circumstances and had the common bond of their choice. Whether you were conservative, liberal, democrat or independent all Americans had to face that same choice. I think possibly that the draft itself was the great equalizer in those days and am not convinced that the elimination of the draft has been a good thing for America. Just my opinion.

    I truly did enjoy reading your bio and it brought back a time that we all can recall vividly and has shaped us as citizens. Thank you for your service and telling your personal story.
    Bob Wayne Jr.

  2. Edward l. Gift March 8, 2018 at 9:05 pm - Reply

    I turned 18 in September of 1966. I was a senior in high school. I had to register for the draft and was given a draft deferment for the duration of my senior year. Right after I graduated in early June I was given 1A classification by my draft board. I was accepted into a local college and I spent the summer working at a concrete block factory. In the middle of August I was sent a notification from my draft board that I had to report for a pre-induction physical for the draft. I passed the physical and was basically draft eligible. I started to college in September and got a draft deferment. However, I was notified by my draft board that I had to take a draft deferment test in late November. The purpose of the test was to make sure I along with all other male college freshmen were worthy of our status as full time college students.

    The test was given on November 19 (a Saturday). The test was essentially an SAT which was used as the standard admissions test to get into college. To insure positive identification we were finger printed. You had to score at least a 70 per cent in order to maintain your deferment. Of course you had to be a full time student in college and you were required to maintain a C average ( 2.0) every single semester in order to keep your deferment. One of my college roommates dipped below 2.0 after the first semester of our Junior year and he was immediately reclassified 1A and he was drafted in early 1969.

    Besides student deferments there were also occupational deferments. I was planning on becoming a history teacher after graduating from college in May of 1970. I had friends who graduated in 1969 and became teachers and got their occupational deferment. But in April of 1970 right before I graduated President Nixon cancelled all future occupational deferments. As a result of Nixon’s action and due to the fact I had a low draft lottery number (175) I immediately enlisted in the Active Army Reserve. I graduated from college on May 31,1970 and 10 days later I was sworn into the Active Army Reserve. (And 4 days later I got married.)

    I was lucky enough to get a teaching position and I actually got to teach a full year before being called to Active duty in order to go through Basic Combat Training at Fort Fix New Jersey and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Lee Virginia. I missed the first half of the school year and to say the least the amount of money made by an E-2 private $138 a month in 1971-1972) did not match up to the salary I had been making as a teacher.

    After being cut loose from Active duty I returned to my teaching position and I completed my enlistment in the Active Army Reserve in June of 1976. I feel fortunate that I was able to finish college and at the same time serve my country. I retired after 42 years of teaching high school and I am in my 45th year of teaching as an adjunct faculty member at the community college in Hagerstown,Md. I believe that the government’s draft deferment program was definitely discriminatory in relation to underclass citizens but at the same time it did give serious students an opportunity to get a college degree.

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