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Disarmed forces

July 13,2018
LEE CHUL-JAE
The author is the deputy editor of international security at the JoongAng Ilbo.

Another group of our country’s men left for the United Arab Emirates on June 28 to join the Akh Unit. The 130 soldiers arrived safely, but not without a bit of turbulence on the plane.

That turbulence came at the hands of the ROK Transportation Command, which chartered a private jet and allocated seats at its own discretion. It gave first-class seats to officers, noncommissioned officers of the command and government officials. The command argued that it was following customary practice, but five journalists covering the Transportation Command were also given prestigious seats.

Meanwhile, most of the Akh Unit members, the actual soldiers, were seated in economy class. A sergeant major who served in the special forces for 32 years was seated in coach for more than eight hours. The top brass censured the arrangement, and the ROK Transportation Command could no longer abuse its power. It promised to follow the code, which states that the commander of deployed troops should assign seats.

In the United States, 13 Marines returning home from their deployment in Afghanistan in November 2013 were upgraded to first class. The airline offered six vacant seats to the soldiers, and seven first-class passengers who learned about the Marines offered their seats.

Korean soldiers are envious of U.S. forces when they hear this kind of news, but they are in no position to complain because Korean society does not respect the military. As the ROK Transportation Command case shows, the military does not regard field soldiers highly.

What has happened? Korean forces have not engaged in actual battles since the Vietnam War and have been fighting with pens. The soldiers who shed blood and sweat in the field are lagging behind, while soldiers who work on documents in pleasant offices are assigned to key positions. They are the main culprits who drafted a martial law plan during the massive candlelight vigils against the Park Geun-hye administration last year.

Korea’s armed forces are gradually forgetting how to fight. A general who trained with the United States said the Korean military still does not skip PRI (preliminary rifle instruction) in gunnery exercises, but the American soldiers train to swiftly change their ammo rather than checking the right stance, he said.

The pen may be mightier than the sword, but not in battle. I hope the Korean military will regain its lost wild nature through defense reforms to be announced by the end of this month.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 12, Page 30