As an abled male South Korean citizen, I have the duty to serve in the nation’s defense for approximately two years. I was conscripted at August 6th this year and completed my basic infantry training in the Republic of Korea Army Training Centre few days back at September 3rd. I must admit that it was the longest four weeks I have ever spent in my life.
I am fortunately a more rare kind compared to my other Korean brothers, as I am eligible for alternative service options thanks to my incredibly flat feet. I am thrown into reserve after the completion of my training instead of serving my time as active serviceman. In reserve, I serve as a public service agent. Our task is assisting in various administrative facilities; and among said facilities, social welfare organizations get priority in men power.
The four weeks training is not as intense as that of active soldiers in certain regards because: a) even as reserve, we won’t be thrown straight into combat during war (we take in non combat tasks during crisis); and b), most of us ended up here because of some kind of physical/psychological limitations.
Active or not, the training sessions themselves have become incredibly more bearable than the previous decades where North Korea was still considered a serious threat. Back then, there was a real sense of menace; the idea that the North Koreans may attack South Korea again at any moment. As a matter of fact, there was even a case back in the 60s where a small platoon (31 men strong) of North Korean operatives infiltrated towards the presidential palace in attempt to assassinate the president and cripple remaining central administration to begin another war that ultimately failed. However, as the North Korean economy continue to decline, their government and military started to become a joke. They are so low on fuel and munitions that they can no longer conduct vehicle exercises and firearms training. Nonetheless, the NK military continue to be a one million men strong, WMD-loaded threat under the command of a man who really needs psychotherapy that shall not be named on my sacred blog.
With the current North-South dynamics and the trend of modern warfare becoming ever more sophisticated considered, immediately making fully combat capable units out of newly conscripted men in a relatively short (5 weeks for active duty) window became not only unnecessary, but also near impossible. Henceforth, each individual soldiers’ continued service during their two years serves as what really make them experts and professionals in their given stations these days. In fact, soldiers below the rank of E-3 Specialist (Attained at the beginning of second year in service) are often considered ‘amateurs’ in most units. The closest thing to *real* deployment most enlisted men can do is standing watch along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and operating heavy guns at the fronts. Tasks such as mine searching and standing watch within the DMZ, actively spying on the North Koreans and executing Foreign deployment missions is reserved for people who signed up as career soldiers (NCOs, Officers, etc.)
The truth about the Korean armed forces is that it is still, in many ways, far lot inferior than its superpower neighbors such as China and Russia. Although the Korean army is relatively o-kay and could hold its own against a hypothetical Japanese or other neighboring siege, its Navy and Air Force continue to be hilariously outdated and outgunned compared to majority of its neighbors. As such, the Korean defense program is openly considered as ‘work in progress’ and the defense department continue to emphasize in its commitment making the Korean military an advanced fighting force with standards of equipment, firepower, and treatment and benefits equivalent to that of U.S. and the U.K., albeit smaller in headcount.
Korean soldiers, particularly the conscripted enlisted men, continue to be treated poorly and looked down upon by the military and civilians alike, in comparison to U.S. and other western developed nations’ counterparts. Part of it is that their lives, time, and commitment are not valued as much simply due to the fact that the service is mandatory. The defense department nonetheless repetitively acknowledge these problems and their sacrifice. Among their other efforts to addressing the issues, they have been working hard to restore the first and foremost virtue of all servicemen that has been long lost due to past military junta/dictatorships and inhumane practices; honor.
I am not that much of a patriot. In fact, I don’t even quite consider myself ethnically Korean. However, I continue to hold certain degree of animosity and disapproval towards the past history of Chinese and Japanese invasion of the Korea, and signs of their – particularly that of Chinese – continued works towards trying to take over Asia yet again. Although it will not be so within the next few decades, I hope to see the day when the Korean uniformed services is seen as a meritorious organization of honor with combat capabilities no less than that of the U.S. armed forces, so that the servicemen are treated fairly with dignity, and the Korean people stand proud and free among not one, but two nations with imperialistic roots and intentions.