I enlisted in the US Army Reserve in 1968, being one of the thousands of graduate students whose deferments were cancelled by LBJ in the spring of 1968. At that time, before the lottery, the draft was applied on the basis of oldest first. All of us who had held graduate school deferments immediately went to the head of the line. I had been telling myself that as long as the Selective Service was willing to defer me, I must be more valuable to my country as a Physics major and future PhD, than as one more overweight draftee. With that excuse removed, I decided to step up and help defend my country, so I enlisted, rather than waiting to be drafted.
Basic training was no fun, but one amusing thing was that 43 of the 44 men in my platoon were old guys like me: former grad students, averaging 23 years old and most with wives and families. We had one 17-year-old who had enlisted straight from a military academy high school. This amazed our drill sergeants, who were used to dealing with barely-literate high school dropouts one jump head of the sheriff, or sent to them by the judge. On the first day, our DS had us in formation, and asked "Are there any college men here?" He was using a time-honored method for finding a "volunteer" to do something unpleasant. He was astonished when 43 hands went up – but quickly regained his composure, and pointing at our one kid, said "You there! Dummy! Come out here and show these men how to do push-ups!"
On another occasion, I was part of a detail to take the company laundry to the post laundry. The DS pointed at a huge pile of laundry bags behind the supply room and said "Load those bags onto the truck. I’ll be back" Then he went off to have a cup of coffee at the mess hall with the supply sergeant. About 15 minutes later, he came charging around the end of the building shouting "All right, get off your uh, and get to work, uh…" when he realized that we were sitting beside a truck full of laundry. He paused and then said "You loaded the truck," in tones of amazement. "Yes Drill Sergeant!" We shouted in unison. "I will never understand you college mens, " he said shaking his head. "Get in the truck". It was then that I realized that "The Army expects every man to shirk his duty" (unless a sergeant is standing there to make him keep working). Later in my Army career, I got to see real combat troops, who lived right down to that stereotype: really strong, really brave, and really dumb; but the sergeants were worth their weight in gold. I had read enough history to know that armies are mostly made up of men from the bottom of the social deck. But it wasn’t until I served with them that I discovered what an amazing job the Army had done of getting the most out of the worst.
When I was about halfway through basic training, I received a form letter from my draft board informing me that as I had not reported in to them as instructed in their previous letter (which had been sent to my dorm in Kansas, evidently, but not forwarded to me as the last letter had been) that I was now in default of the Selective Service Act etc. and subject to arrest. I took great pleasure in informing them–on Ft. Benning stationery–that I had already enlisted and that their snotty threatening letter could be filed somewhere. A week later I received another form letter fulsomely congratulating me on my patriotism in enlisting. Both letters misspelled my name. Let’s hear it for bureaucracies.
My subsequent career in the Army taught me many things about people that I never would have learned working with a hydrogen bubble chamber or a GE625 computer.
Being a Drug and Alcohol Counselor, Indebtedness Counselor, Mess Inspection Officer, becoming a Company Commander and opening up the USAR to women all lay in my future, but my weeks at "Fort Benning School for Boys" (as we called it) changed my life and probably for the better.
As for the lottery, I felt then, and still do, that it was a remarkably unjust and stupid way to recruit an army. Having served in both a draftee army and a volunteer army, I can tell you that a smaller army that wants to serve is far better than a big one that just wants to go home. All the lottery did was to make it look fairer than a system in which someone was trying to make intelligent decisions about who should go. Making it random did not make it fair that someone who was holding down a job should be taken, when someone else, who was doing nothing but practicing for a life of crime, should be left home. The lottery removed all pretense of justice from the draft. It just made it easier to sell the draft and the war the the draft supported, to the public. And remember, I was not a victim of the lottery, it didn’t apply to me.