South Korean Military Service

Posted by & filed under Cultural Differences, Krimmy Couple, Namja Chingu.

Disclaimer: I am no expert when it comes to the ROK’s armed forces. I’m neither Korean nor have I served in the military. I decided to write about this here because I know that the 2-year mandatory service is a big part of a Korean man’s life, my boyfriend’s included. Everything that I’ll write here is based on his experiences (and a bit of my own research) so I cannot say that it holds true and factual for everyone. But it’s pretty close.

~~~

South Koreans take the mandatory Military Service very seriously. Many people may never fully understand its importance to their nation but we all have to bear in mind that South Korea is technically still at war with the North. There was never a peace treaty, only a cease-fire, and the NoKor’s emotionally unstable leaders can attack anytime. So no, it’s not like your ROTC or summer boot camp training and yes, your beloved Kpop idols/Korean actors HAVE to serve, lest they (and their families) want to be ostracized by their society forever.

The Korean boyfriend’s official dog tag.

When we were still dating, I asked him if I could have the other half of that dog tag, since it usually comes in pairs. He said he’d only give it to me if we become officially together! Well, now you know who’s keeping that one. *smiles*

FACTS:

- Able-bodied Korean men aged 18-35 are required to serve for two years, and they normally do so at age 20/21. Jimmy served from ’03-’05 when he was 21-23 (Korean age).

- The worst placement is the bases in the mountainous range in Eastern Korea – it’s cold and is facing the North directly. Jimmy’s base was at Gangwon-do (half of the province is with North Korea) and temperatures reach as low as -30 degrees on winter. Jimmy is a true-blue Gangnam boy who has never lived outside of Seoul and unlike other kids, he never had the chance to stay in the province for vacations. To say that he had a hard time in the camp is an understatement.

Whenever I’d ask him about his time in the military, he’d always say it’s hell and that he’d NEVER EVER want to be there again. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories even from other men, but what happens inside, really? And why is it so bad? First, we’ll share with you the basics – where they live, what they eat and wear. The details and the horrors of the training we’ll save for the 2nd part.

UNIFORM:

According to Jimmy, once you enter as a draftee, you will first be sent to houses in front of your boot camp, where you’ll spend about 2 days and you’ll be given your uniform. He was in the army (the most common, I guess) though there are many options such as the marines, air force, military police, etc. One of his barkadas, JC oppa was lucky enough to be in “civil service” and didn’t have to stay in a camp and pretty much just delivered military mail. Another one is an American citizen and didn’t have to enlist altogether.

That’s what Jimmy’s uniform looked like. He does not, however, look anything like Coffee Prince’s Gong Yoo (left) and Great Inheritance’s Kim Ji-hoon (right).

Basically, once they get their uniforms, all their personal belongings will be packed and sent back to their families. Everything that they’d own from that point on will be provided by the government, though once they get assigned to their camps, it won’t be as strict and they can receive packages from loved ones. The boyfriend said that the boots provided were the worst shoes he had worn ever. And they had to march in those for hours! For two years!

BOOT CAMP:

The first five weeks or so will be spent in the boot camp. Can you imagine? Young men, who had no prior major hardships in life being thrown into a physically tough and mentally exhausting training right away? Must be traumatizing!

Inside this building are some really terrified Korean youth, who’ve been deprived of their iPods and internet. Also, there are no women, except of the ahjummas in the kitchen.

Lecture hall inside the boot camp.

Poor MKBF spent his Christmas and New Year of ’03 and Chinese New Year of ’04 in the boot camp. T__T

BASE:

Once the draftees are done with the boot camp, they are then sent to their respective bases. As I mentioned above, Jimmy was stationed in Gangwon-do, the hometown of Kim Hee-chul (lahlz). If you remember that scene in My Sassy Girl where they buried their letters under a tree, well, that spot is near their camp. It apparently became a tourist destination. Bases are not all “equal” and may vary from one place to another. Jimmy’s didn’t have an internet cafe but at least it had hot water and indoor plumbing. Also, I think football areas are a requirement in each base. According to him, he was one of the best players in the base and part of the Top 11. I guess we’ll never know for sure.

And if you’re complaining about your school dorm, check out their barracks:

Yes, that’s exactly where they sleep. Those are their mattresses folded under their cabinets.

Korean men say that military service barracks have a VERY distinct smell. A smell that’s not very pleasant, mind you. In fact, when Jimmy saw this image for the first time, he claimed that the smell was reeking out of the photo! He described it as “the smell of a bunch of men who just got back from a long day of physical work, full of sweat, taking their shoes off… in an enclosed room with minimal ventilation.” HOLY SHIT.

ALLOWANCE AND RECREATION:

Thankfully, those who are in service get a monthly allowance, which ranges from Php 2,500 when you enter as a private and about Php 3,600 when you’re about to leave as a sergeant. They also have vacations and days off, of course but most of their recreation, especially on a normal day after their “work” ends at 5pm involve playing foot ball, reading books and watching TV even though the channel is controlled by the sergeant.

Also, one of the boyfriend’s family members was the only male in his family and their father died when they were young. Hence, he was only required to serve for 6 months because he was technically considered the bread winner of the family.

FOOD:

Okay, this is actually what inspired me to make this blog post. Their food isn’t really THAT bad, especially since poor people in this country eat a lot less and much worse food. But the military service food is amusing! I wonder if I can try them sometime.

The normal, everyday meal served in stainless steel plate/trays. Kimchi is mandatory.

A pretty common way of eating when you’re out in field, training. Talk about communal food! Wait, is that a plastic bag?

Instant noodles eaten straight out of a foil pack. You just add hot water and eat it like a BAMF because cups are for wimps.

War food. Literally. This is what the government will provide the troops should a war break out. It is also served during their training so they get used to it, I guess.

Heating their food straight out of their official military lunch boxes. Wew.

Sunny side-up, anyone?

If you’d tell me that that’s the same case as say, the PMA, well, the difference is that these young men are there because they have to, not because they want to. I believe Singaporeans have mandatory service as well.

Military service is a very sensitive topic in Korea. It’s apparently on the same level as sex scandals and in fact, a famous rapper, MC Mong, was recently sentenced to 6 months in prison for draft dodging (it has since been reduced to 120 hours of community service). To be honest with you, I have no idea how Korean men get trough it but apparently, they come out tougher and with more tolerance for hardships and seniority, which is a big factor in Korean society. Military service is almost like a 2-year, brutal coming-of-age ceremony, one that gives men a sense of honor and pride once they’re done with it.

I’m really thankful that I met him AFTER he had done his service. It must suck to be in a relationship with someone who has to or has just enlisted. Jimmy really hated his experience in the camp but whenever I ask him if he wants his sons to go through it, his only reply is “Are you kidding me? Of course!” And he says that with conviction.

Up next, the crazy but necessary training that the soldiers go through. Please watch out for part two and hope you enjoyed and learned from this somehow.

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Kring (192 Posts)

Host✮Entrepreneur✮Superstar✮Producer✮Writer✮Actress✮Dreamer✮Leader✮Lover✮Future Billionaire. I'm like Robbie Williams... LET ME ENTERTAIN YOU! And oh, hope you guys have fun here on mykoreanboyfriend.com! ^^ Let's be friends~

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56 Responses to “South Korean Military Service”

  1. Trish Choi

    I'm in the USAF and I must say, we are a little spoiled compared to other US services. At least it's what I've heard them say. During basic, we lived in dorms that we had to clean ourselves and were inspected for cleanliness everyday. Food was good too. The only time I remember eating MRE (meal ready-to-eat) was when we went to our field training we called 'warrior week.' When I finally got to my first base I was living in a dorm room by myself and shared the bathroom with only one other female… Pretty much after basic, life was easier and back to "normal."

    I was stationed in Korea and we had Korean military at our base and I always wondered if they were not allowed to live with their families even after basic, co'z I always see their families visiting them during their break time.

    Reply
    • Kring Elenzano

      Welcome to my blog and thanks for the comment!

      Wow, I've never met a non-Filipino woman serving in the armed forces but congrats to you! Life must be exciting. Although I got to talk to some army men at the US base in Korea and yep, they did say that AF is perhaps the most spoiled. :P Unfortunately, I'm not really sure what the set-up is if a Korean man decides to take it up as a career. Here, families do stay with the one in service so normally they live in camps, too. :)

      Reply
  2. Hanneebuff

    Such an insightful post.  And to think that we complain about our ROTC.  If the Philippines will go to war, sad to say but we will lose within the first week for lack of manpower. I think the military service makes the Koreans more loyal to their country since they really experienced hardship trying to protect it. Sabi nga nila, mas mahal mo ang isang bagay pag pinaghirapan mo.

    So, may hazing daw ba and power tripping? I read in Koreatimes about a soldier shooting his fellow soldier dahil naburyong or something pero that is just the tip of the iceberg pagdating daw sa problema sa military service dahil may corruption din and all that problems that we Filipinos are so familiar with.

    And most importantly pala, may nakasabay ba si Jimmy na artista? hahaha! I am curious kasi feeling ko lang ha, mas madali ang ginagawa nila. Ang nabasa ko lang na naghirap daw ay si WonBin at siyempre si Hyun Bin na nagpaassign sa Marines.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      You know, during my time, ROTC was abolished and we ended up as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, which IMO was much more fun and practical. XD As per my “research”, bawal na ang hazing and whatnot pero power-tripping and other forms of punishments?! DEFINITELY!!! (will write about that on the next post).

      Ah… artista! Would you believe Jimmy was the ONLY person from Seoul in his base? And he never hung out with people from outside of Seoul prior to that. From what I understand, medyo napa-hirapan sya dun kasi feeling nila mayayabang/mayayaman ang mga city boys so ayun. OA NI HYUN BIN!!! SIYA NA!!! Si In-sung nag-air force, right? Kawawa ang mga artista sa service. LAHAT ng seniors nila, dongsaeng nila! Hahaha!

      Reply
  3. Joy Eunice Boniol

    I learned a lot from this post. I thought it was just all training and all with no such hardships but wow, I kinda underestimated the South Korean Military Service. O_o And they suffered from minimal ventilation and unpleasant smell from the barracks. TT But the experience of training really gives the Korean men honor. :) Can’t wait for part 2! Nice Ate Kring.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      Thanks for reading, dear! Yup, hanggang ngayon, may mentality pa rin na if you don’t serve, parang hindi ka kumpletong lalaking Koryano. Gets? Will start writing the next post soon as Jimmy comes over again!

      Reply
  4. Yanna Solace Abrera-Adofina

    Learned a lot Miss Kring. Super kamsahamnida! ♥

    Reply
  5. Miwha S Haga

    wew X_X""…….We(michiko) enjoyed reading this one ^_^….."ah Mr.jimmy kim, i already tried wearing those combat shoes…for two years as well^_^ its called COCC(3rd yrHS) CAT(4rth HS)…unfortunately girls isn't exempted unless you have any medical conditions blah blah.^_^ honto! love this ms.kring! will be waiting for the updates^_^.

    Reply
    • Kring Elenzano

      Thank you!!! Pero lol dear, gaya ng sinabi ko, I think incomparable ang CAT/COCC dito. Those boots have been mass-produced and they didn't have to buy it so comfort-wise, I think the ones for the HS service is much better! :P

      Reply
    • Anonymous

      You’re welcome. Glad this has been helpful for you… somehow. :)

      Reply
  6. Larieza Camille Mae Valdez

    "It must suck to be in a relationship with someone who has to or has just enlisted." Ms. Kring try to watch The Longest 24 Months/Crazy Waiting (a Korean Movie about 4 young couples deal with mandatory military service in Korea), though it's funny you can see that it's actually hard. Starring Jang Geun Seuk :)

    Reply
  7. Darlene Faith Lee

    kamsahamnida ms. kring for those fabulous information..its just sad to think that on 2014-2016 my biased is going to army..:((.

    Reply
  8. Adara

    Hi. Nice post! :) I was just wondering if you knew if there was a lot of abuse in the korean army (sexual and otherwise)? I read a disturbing article the other day and I became worried about the korean boys (*coughs* Lee Junki *coughs*)

    Reply
  9. Anonymous

    What about the packages that you send them? Are there any limitations to that?

    Reply
  10. Jade Phan

    This makes me worry :( All the members are eventually going to serve military service (as they said in an interview posted just today) Heechul and Leeteuk are supposed to go soon!! Kangin already went! What if it does/did traumatize the members (like it said in the article)? Usually Super Junior would be happy and just silly, but what if after the service, they’re serious and get so stressed? Or they change and Super Junior will no longer be the same!?!? Sorry… im a fangirl :P  

    Reply
  11. Jenny

    annyeong! just stumble to your blog and I love the way you describe, explain things Korean.Due to my addiction to anuthing Korean I now teach english online to Koreans and planning to visit Korea next year. Fighting !!
     

    Reply
  12. Mai Cynthia Genabe

    i saw a lot of times some Korean in Seven Eleven eating their noodles straight from pouch and I kinda find it weird~ parang meron namang Filipino noodles na nakacup pa… parang hello pahirapan daw ba sarili~ pero na-amuse ako most likely tapos na sila sa military service or ganun lang talaga sila talaga kumain kahit sa korea~

    Reply
  13. Tarits Sim

    Good information to know what the k actors and kpop idols go through. Well, some come in boys and come out men! That's good enough motivation.

    Reply
  14. Kanako N.

    I learned a LOT from this post. I can't wait for the part 2. My boyfriend is korean and he is actually going back to korea in order to serve for the military…I definitely underestimated the ROMC. I was just shocked…

    Reply
  15. Anni Quach

    I really enjoyed your post, since my korean boyfriend just went to serve the army a week ago!
    really looking foward to part 2, since I heard a lot of ridiculous things happening in the army as well.

    also just finished watching the movie"the longest 24 months" , it really shows u the reality of relationships not working out because of the distance. but well, since it was a movie, felt like time past by really fast but I feel time past sooo slowly these days T___T.
    Cant wait for part 2 hehhe.

    Reply
  16. korinoguy

    Thank you Miss. 

    Half korean Half Filipino ako at next month magmimilitar na ako, pero di pa ako masyado marunung magkorean (read and write lang).. kinakabahan na ako at the same time excited. malaking tulong to atleast my idea na ako.:)
    고맙습니다. 

    Reply
  17. Emyfer Mae

    Gah. My Korean Boyfriend naman will enlist pa lang. :(
    Gaaaaaaaahhhh…. :( ((((
    Good luck na lang sa kanya. :) ))))

    This post has been really informative.. in actuality, your whole blog! ^^
    Keep it up!

    Reply
  18. Guest

    Is there any way out of the mandatory Military service? because i really don’t want my fiance to have go

    Reply
    • Mzcocoab

      He’d have to be really sick (like cancer sick) or have structural(?) problems (like a back that could pretty much break if he bent over)

      Reply
      • Guest

        Well, hes backs always in a lot of pain, and he get sick a lot… i guess we’ll have to see when the time comes i guess…thanks 

        Reply
  19. bham_royce14@yahoo.com

    Hi I just want to know if soldier (not private) can have their furloughs? How long can a soldier take his vacation after he entered in military? Many thanks!

    Bambi

    Reply
  20. Sharon Simbulan

    U..wa! this story was really makes me focus to finished reading it.. oh can't really imagine how life korean man doing it.. I was so amaize… :-) I'll wait for the part 2 of it.. please if it is possible can you send me a part to of it.. Kamsahamnida.. :-)

    Reply
  21. Jason Lee

    my parents are skorean, I serve in the british army.
    after reading this I now understand why my distant family and my dad says.
    the british army seems like a holiday camp,

    Reply
    • Katia MC

      Hi jason. I would like to ask how where you able to chose the british army instead of clearing your military duty in south korea? are you still a korean citizen? I am trying to understand more about the military duty in korea because my boyfriend still has not served the army

      Reply
  22. Larla_18

    Wow! nice post. pero wait, is it true na if only boy child ka sa family may opportunity ka to choose kung gusto mo mag military service or not? may nabasa po kasi akong ganun eh. Please answer po. Salamat! :)

    Reply
  23. Kwak M.K

    i have read your interesting posts.
    in my case, I had worked in Korea army as a offical for couple of years..
    my rank was lieutenant.
    some of parts of your post are correct but some of factors are not correct.
    If you are not Korean, may think it is stupid to spend time for almost 2 years in Military service. but we South&North Korea is still in War.
    Military service in Korea is not problem about their time or freedom or duty. it is just simple matter for democracy, protection of our family etc…. Of course, the environment in Korean army is not good but it is being changed.

    Reply
  24. ksuc

    Two years straight? I couldn’t believe I will spent two years in military – with limited foods in war or barracks designed that badly.

    I’m totally a man who aren’t designed for military thing.

    Reply
    • park dina

      u mean i can not send mails to my beloved idol ?? T_T i am asking Korean fans about the address now
      he joined 85 hours ago

      Reply
  25. lista sotavento

    Hi there, I discovered your blog by way of Google even as looking for a similar topic, your web site got here up, it looks good. I have added to my favourites|added to bookmarks.

    Reply
  26. Anna

    My boyfriend just gave me his old army tags from when he was in the army… what does this mean? o.o

    Reply
  27. Yubin

    um.. My boyfriend just went into army like a week ago.. I’m wondering if I can send him letters? His dad actually gave me the address of the place that he’s staying, but I dont know how to send them…. Can anyone help?

    Reply
  28. Jaewon

    Thank you thank you thank you.
    Loved the way you write. It was easy to follow through.
    I did have fair-share doing the service for the Marines.
    Yes, it was tough getting through it while being treated at a level inferior to the normal citizens.
    But, it’s over, and I’m glad that I did something for this country.

    Thank you for the article.

    Reply
    • elena

      Thank you for the info..I am just curious, what will happen after 2 years of doing their military training? Are they going back to their normal routine/career/life? Is there any special treatment if you are a famous actor like Lee Min-ho? Do some male Koreans ever forget their military training after 2 years (if ever they will not go back after their 2 years of training? Thanks! Hope someone will reply.

      Reply
  29. Niña

    Thanks for this explanation. I am actually looking for detailed information why Military service is required among South Korean men.

    Reply
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  31. Michelle

    Does anybody know if the enlisted man have breaks? If so, do you happen to know the dates/ the months aproximately? My boyfriend enlisted 2 days ago and I’m desperate because we’ve never been away from each other and he didn’t know when he’ll be home. Please, let me know! Thanks in advance

    Reply
    • sydney

      Well maybe his first vacation is going to have after his first 100 days in the military base. They called this vacation “recruit consolation vacation” ( my bf once told me that) . He will have about 3 or 4 days at home before coming back to the base.
      Hope this helpful! Have a nice day!

      Reply
  32. Melissa

    I’m really worried about those “Horror stories”….my korean friend is going this year….Can his personality change after the two years?? ….Are they going to mistreat him there?? …I really really worried about him
    :( …Ohh and are those stories about sexual abuse in the comments true??

    Reply
  33. John Raymond

    Thanks for posting this. Though the training looks no worse (nor better) than that of other armies in the world, it is definitely something that most would want to avoid. But then being an adult is all about doing things we don’t want to do, and not only that, even getting better at them!

    It seems hard for some pampered people to understand how it could be mandatory. It is, however, in a great many countries, even neutral Switzerland. The Koreans have a strong sense of national pride. They love their country, their culture, and their long history. They actually revel in the idea of defending those things dearest to them. They don’t wish they were someone else someplace else. They are proud of who they are (too proud, perhaps, after their 40-year rebuilding that has made them a bit arrogant?).

    The really sad thing about this all is that their most likely enemy is other Koreans. It hurts the heart to even think about, like the Americal Civil War, only carried out to decades, but still brother against brother and family member against family member. All of this because of the political decisions of those at the top.

    Yes, sexual abuse happens, like everywhere. Physical and emotional abuse, too, since they have failed to absorb the revelations of learning theory and still think pain is a motivator. But abuse is waning and light peeking through the cracks. Things will get better, and Koreans will always be proud to show their love for their country.

    Reply
  34. Anaïs

    Hello I am French American, and my boyfriend is Korean American. He just told me that if there was a war he would be drafted which absolutely terrified me and led me here in a fit. He moved to america from Seoul when he was 2 but is not an American citizen. Apparently he can be exempt from military duty because he’s lived here so long, but not if there is a war. Does anyone have any knowledge about this?!? Thank you

    Reply
  35. Unknown

    My boyfriend might go for mandatory service and since we’re both of different nationalities, we might be separated for 2 years. The thought of it is so depressing, especially after reading this post. I know some other places may have worse conditions. I just hope that he don’t have to do it… Two years might just seem like 200 years…

    Reply

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