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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Pentagon’s leading medical official said the Defense Department has no intention of drafting civilian doctors and medical professionals into the military, even as the Selective Service agency updates its draft contingency plan.

William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for Health Affairs, held a press briefing Wednesday to emphatically deny any draft plans, and said any such action “serves no useful purpose.”

“There is no need for such a contingency plan,” Winkenwerder said. “The military health system today is ready and capable and has an incredible amount of capacity. The military system today is working remarkably well, working better than it has ever worked, and it would perform very effectively in the event of a national catastrophic event, even a large one.”

The active duty force has more than 130,000 full-time doctors, nurses, technicians and medics, with “many tens of thousands” more in the reserve component, Winkenwerder said.

In the hotly contested race for the U.S. presidency, the controversial issue of the draft is repeated often, with both President Bush and Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry opposing it.

Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly attempt to quash talk of a possible draft, calling it a politically motivated rumor. Kerry has said the draft is a possibility if Bush wins re-election because the force is stretched too thin.

The issue of a draft of medical professionals came about as the Selective Service System updated its plans.

The agency simply was following a 1987 law enacted by Congress to have a plan in place in the event the president, with concurrence of Congress, decided to reinstate the draft and needed medical personnel to augment the active force, agency spokesman Richard Flahavan said.

The draft is merely a public relations and awareness plan of how the agency should go about informing medical professions, Flahavan said. There is no database of identified personnel and medical professionals do not have to register with the selective, he said.

However, men between 18 and 25 are required by law to register with the agency, or as Flahavan called, “cheap insurance” for the executive and legislative branches to have a database of potential conscripts in the "unlikely" event both branches signed off on a draft. “It’s cheap insurance, a very small agency of less that 200 people who keep a list just in case, so we won’t have to start from nothing.”

There are 14.3 million men registered with the Selective Service.

When the nation did have a draft, between 1950 and 1973, about 30,000 medical professionals were drafted into the active force, each serving about 2 years, Flahavan said.

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