International Insight: Military service in South Korea

Ju Hyeog Lee

When Korea gained independence from Japan during the Korean War, China controlled the North, assisted by the Soviet Union, and the United States of America supported the South. China and the Soviet Union advocated communism, but America advocated democracy. The countries tried to unite the North and the South, but they could only make a truce. By agreement with the United States, the North occupied Korea north of the 38th parallel. The North and South had already established their own governments which meant that Korea was not one country anymore but divided into North Korea and South Korea. North Korea is still under communist rule while South Korea is free.

All South Korean males over the age of 20 are required to complete one year and nine months of military service. If we are traveling abroad, we can delay our service, but it must be completed before we are thirty or we have to go to prison for two years. In general, we do not like this law because we feel that it wastes valuable time that could be used for education.

We must complete a physical to determine our ability level with levels three, four, and five being the least qualified. For example, those who are overweight or too short or tall cannot enlist. Soldiers must be at least 5’4” but not taller than 6’6”. These men must still complete service time which can include entry-level jobs such as community service. Men who are in optimum physical condition are placed into levels one and two and join the army.

Higher-ranking Korean soldiers can be stationed at American military bases and serve with the United States Army. We live in the same barracks, eat in the same cafeterias, and train alongside American soldiers. Other soldiers are stationed at Korean bases. When we enlist in the army, we are required to take the TOEIC, TABE, or TOEFL tests to demonstrate our English proficiency. I think this is a reasonable expectation because soldiers who apply to this program need to have good communication skills. If our scores are high enough, we have the opportunity to join the KATUSA. The KATUSA, or the Korean Augmentation to the United States Army, is an elite group of soldiers who demonstrate high skills and abilities.


Note: International Insight is a monthly column that highlights different topics from around the globe, each written by a different international student so as to get a broader perspective of the world we live in.