POHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – Hundreds of South Korean students challenged the freezing winter temperatures this week to test themselves against the rigors of the Marine Corps training camp.
South Koreans, including students, carry an inflatable boat in a mock Marine Corps camp in Pohang, South Korea, on January 14, 2020. REUTERS / Heo Ran
Started in 1997, the one-week camp aims to challenge participants with their physical activities, but also inspire potential recruits for the South Korean mass army.
Nearly 600,000 South Korean troops are stationed across the country, largely destined to deter North Korea through the heavily fortified demilitarized zone (DMZ) that divides the two countries.
Dressed in combat uniforms, the mix of young men and women climbed aboard amphibious armored vehicles on Tuesday in a simulation of invasion of the beach that included smoke bombs.
The most demanding activities included carrying heavy rubber boats along the beach, running through obstacles and learning to march.
“I was surprised because the training was more challenging than I thought, but I did it,” Moon Eun-ji, an 18-year-old high school student who wants to become a marine.
Kim Tae-un, a physical education teacher, said he brought his students to camp to help them develop their mental strength.
“Although it is very difficult, we are having fun trusting each other, helping and communicating,” he said.
Faced with a growing number of eligible young men, the South Korean army plans to reduce the number of active duty troops from almost 600,000 to 500,000 by 2025, while spending billions of dollars on new weapons to modernize the force, according to The Ministry of Defense
South Korea is one of the few countries in the world that has mandatory service for all men without disabilities, but has been subject to increasing scrutiny, and the Supreme Court allows conscientious objection for the first time in 2018.
The government also announced that the commitment would be shortened. For this summer, new Marine Corps recruits, for example, will face 18 months of service instead of 21.
Additional reports from Sangmi Cha and Minwoo Park; written by Josh Smith; edition by Nick Macfie