As the nation's schools hold graduation ceremonies this month, 19- and 20 -year-old men can look forward to visiting their neighborhood post offices this summer to register for a possible future draft.
Led by Sen. Mark Hatfield (R) of Oregon, foes of registration delayed, for about a week, US Senate passage of a bill appropriating $13.2 million President Carter has requested for setting up registration machinery. But as of the afternoon of June 11, time was running out on the opponents and passage was expected within hours.
However, registration won't help the armed services fill their urgent need for trained and educated men and women. Not even a draft -- which the pending legislation does not authorize -- could completely fill that need. So the Pentagon is mining high schools and colleges for recruits capable of mastering the skills needed to run a modern military machine and willing to trade at least a few years of service for valuable training.
Both friends and foes of compulsory registration acknowledge that the urgent need in manpower is not for numbers, but for quality and skills.
To meet national defense needs for men and women who already have needed skills, or want to acquire them in the armed forces or in civilian jobs with the Pentagon, Secretary of defense Harold Brown's manpower specialists are pursuing three parallel actions:
* Service recruiters have been directed to stress to young people who hesitate about volunteering that their best prospects are with the armed forces, because unemployment of youth is growing worse -- 17.4 percent in May, according to Labor Department figures.
People already in the service are also being told, in the words of one manpower official, that "job prospects are grim outside, and you're better off staying in."
The Army, Navy, and Air Force all went over their April recruiting quotas, though the Marine Corps, which has higher mental and physical standards, fell short. Manpower experts attribute recruiting gains to unemployment and search for job security, as well as to use of the military as an avenue to higher education.
* The Defense Department is offering about 200 new scientific "apprenticeships" to this June's graduating high school seniors. Intended to appeal especially to minority and women students interested in science and engineering careers, the Program offers young people study and work with a professional mentor in Defense Department contract research establishments, or the department's own research laboratories.
The Army's research and development commands and schools have been seeking recommendations for possible apprentices from high school officials. The Navy is operating a similar program.
The Air Force program is placing about 15 students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of New Mexico, Ohio State University, and Tuskegee Institute. Deputy Undersecretary of defense Albert Bottoms has been coordinating the program from Washington.
* On a larger scale, Pentagon emissaries have for some time been visiting university campuses to offer funds for basic research in subjects like integrated communications, fiber optics, climatology, and even social sciences and linguistics. All have military applications, some more direct than others.
The Pentagon research budget for fiscal 1981 is expected to reach about $700 million. A generous amount of this will be spread among universities. During the Vietnam war years, Pentagon research funds were considered tainted. Antiwar activists often led the resistance to accepting Pentagon funds on campuses where such funds are now eagerly sought.