Preserving Opportunities

“I can hear their voices.”

So said Ms. Issiar Santa-Torres, member of a local board in Philadelphia, referring to the natural ability of Latino board members to relate to Hispanic men required by Federal law to register with the Selective Service System. The reverse of that is also true. If there were a draft, young Hispanic men would relate better if board members hearing claims for deferments, exemptions, or postponements looked and talked just like them.

Ms. Santa-Torres is one of many Hispanics already serving 20-year terms on Selective Service local boards. The Agency wants to recruit even more of them. Especially if they are as committed as Robert Martinez of Austin, TX; Cynthia Leon and Gilbert Noriega of San Antonio, TX; and Ms. Santa-Torres. Comments by the four suggest that the typical Latino board member is family and community-oriented, dedicated to preserving the opportunities of young men in general and Latinos in particular, firm believers in the American dream, and highly patriotic.

“In Spanish we say, ‘El Mexicano es muy patriota,’” said Noriega, “meaning ‘The Mexican is very patriotic.’ And I’m certainly just as patriotic as anyone else to the United States for everything I’ve been blessed with.”

Noriega believes the Hispanic community was underrepresented on Selective Service local boards in the past. If so, it hasn’t presented a problem in adjudicating claims of deferments, exemptions and postponements since there has been no military draft since 1973. The problem is that there have been fewer Spanish-speaking “influencers” to educate young Latinos and their parents on the importance of registering with Selective Service.

Like any male who fails to register, Latino men “might not qualify for other important funds such as education, or for citizenship, for training, and to work for the federal government,” Ms. Santa-Torres noted. Those are exactly the benefits and privileges many young men need to pursue the American dream.“I can inform them in their own language,” Ms. Santa-Torres said about correcting any “misunderstanding of what Selective Service is.” She sees it as a two-way communications channel. She is confident that if her board is ever activated and called upon to adjudicate claims, she’ll be able to relate the special problems of Latino claimants to other board members.

Martinez mentioned two virtues in having a diversified local board. First, he said it was important to have people with different “life experiences” in order to understand the lives of others. “We need a draft board in place to make sure everybody shares in the responsibility,” he added, explaining that he became a board member in the first place because he wanted to make sure all young men had an equal opportunity to serve their country.

All four board members reported comparable motives for accepting their appointments. Ms. Leon had her own special motive. She said her father opposed her desire to enlist in the military, so becoming a board member was her way to serve her country.All four individuals take their board member responsibilities seriously. Martinez echoed the others in saying board members had to master the requirements and criteria for determining claims, a task he described as “hard because it takes judgment.”

“You’re always going to have some people who are going to have deep-seated convictions and beliefs that they feel prevent them from serving in the military,” Noriega observed, “and there has to be somebody to vet those people to determine whether their beliefs are concrete, whether they’re deep seated beliefs, and if not, then a determination has to be made how they should serve the nation.”

Ms. Leon also supports the Selective Service campaign to have local boards more accurately reflect the local population. She sees a need to have men and women, people from a variety of professions and educational backgrounds, as well as ethnic diversity.

“I think that all of that combined is important,” she said, “so that the person who is coming before us can have a sense of ‘okay, I can relate to them and they can relate to me,’ and they’re not feeling like it’s a one-sided decision.”

She laughed when asked if there was anything unusual about women serving on local boards.“Women are more nurturing,” she said, adding that this quality brought needed balance to decisions of granting exemptions or alternate service options to conscientious objectors.

All four board members said they wouldn’t hesitate to urge another Latino to become a board member. Martinez tells everyone he knows that being a board member is an “awesome responsibility.” Noriega hopes to repeat the process that got him involved in Selective Service. A man who served as a career mentor to him many years ago was a board member. Noriega was sold on the idea, submitted the paper work in 1991, and finally became a board member in 2002. He said he is working now on a Latino “golfing buddy,” whom he convinced to submit an application and wait for an opening. “This gentleman would be highly qualified,” he said.

“I feel very proud to be a board member,” Ms. Leon said, “It’s a really cool thing to be appointed by the President. It’s an awesome feeling to have that certificate that says you’ve been appointed by the President of the United States.”

The Selective Service web site,, has more on local boards, including how to become a board member.

Issiar Santa-Torres, Robert Martinez, Cynthia Leon and Gilbert Noriega serve on Selective Service local boards.