SMYRNA — After a full career of service to the U.S. military, retirement was not the perfect fit for Brig. Gen. Ruth Irwin.
When she was given the opportunity to serve again, this time as the U.S. Selective Service System’s Delaware state director, Brig. Gen. Irwin easily left retired life behind.
“I thought, ‘Yeah, this sounds just right and fits into my wheelhouse,’” she said, calling her role a cross between civilian and military life. “It’s positive — it helps my state, it helps my nation, and I’m back in the game.”
Brig. Gen. Irwin was sworn into office by Craig T. Brown, acting national director of the Selective Service System, during a ceremony Friday at the Delaware National Guard Readiness Center in Smyrna.
She was nominated to the position by Gov. John Carney, who was in attendance at the ceremony along with Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long.
Brig. Gen. Irwin retired in 2012 after 31 years of service in the Delaware Army National Guard. When she retired, she was the director of operations and training.
She holds a master’s degree in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College and earned two other master’s — from the University of Kentucky in library and information sciences and from Wilmington University in human resources management.
In her new role, Brig. Gen. Irwin will serve as liaison between the Selective Service System and Gov. Carney’s office. Gov. Carney said her nomination came at the recommendation of Maj. Gen. Francis D. Vavala, the former head of the Delaware National Guard, among others in the service.
The governor praised the work the Selective Service System does to ensure readiness for the state and the nation.
“We’ve got to be ready,” he said. “We might need it.”
Calling Brig. Gen. Irwin “truly, one of the best,” Maj. Gen. Michael Berry, Delaware’s current adjutant general, praised her for her level of professionalism, skills and dedication to her job.
“Having been on the receiving end of calls, emails and texts for many years, her attention to detail is amazing,” Maj. Gen. Berry said. “The level of professionalism is just staggering.”
Maj. Gen. Berry also praised Brig. Gen. Irwin for her work running joint staff between branches of the military. He said her ability was especially apparent during meetings in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You got to see and hear every joint staff officer or (noncommissioned officer) as they went through their briefing,” Maj. Gen. Berry said. “That’s because of the work Ruth Irwin did as a member running that joint staff.”
While the Selective Service System was first established in 1917, Mr. Brown said the state director role dates back to World War II and “the call.”
“The call,” Mr. Brown said, refers to the number of men the nation needed from each state to perform jobs in the military. It was up to the states to determine how men were able to serve.
“In June 1944, the national call was 600,000 people,” Mr. Brown said. “Delaware’s portion of that was 1,200. It was sort of prorated by population, if you think about it, but it’s really about how many young men are in the age range.”
Speaking to the complexity of the process, Mr. Brown said the draft needed to ensure workforce in essential areas like agriculture wasn’t depleted — however, exemptions for necessary workers vary state by state.
“You don’t want to cripple the economy in the state,” he said. “You might think about it as, ‘We might want to exempt poultry workers in Delaware.’”
The state director and governor would then work together to figure out who could be drafted.
The state prorated call system has been replaced with a system where men registered with the Selective Service are chosen based on their birthday. Each governor still needs a point of contact within the system “to keep the state’s interest in mind if there were ever to be a bad day,” Mr. Brown said.
That’s where Brig. Gen. Irwin comes in.
She will be responsible for managing registration, hearing cases locally if there were to be a draft and ensuring readiness.
“We are thrilled to have you,” Mr. Brown said. “Your knowledge base, your experience, your background of service to the nation, your family’s background of service to the nation is commendable and exactly what we need in the way of a state director.”
Brig. Gen. Irwin said she is happy to be serving again and to help ensure Delaware is ready, noting that she hopes “it’s not the big game ever.”
“When you’ve been in the military, it’s very hard to leave,” she said. “If you haven’t experienced it yet, everyone should try retirement. Retirement is great, but not having a uniform and not feeling a part of something, I certainly missed that.”