When the South Korean Army announces its biannual boot camp for civilians above the age of 13, there are lots of people who are more than happy to attend. Held at the command base in western Seoul, the 4 to 14 day camp offers basic military training to anyone able to pay the entry fee of 40,000 won (that’s about $36). Teenage boys and young women are seen attending the camp, sometimes along with their families. This doesn’t exactly come as a surprise, given that military culture is quite deeply ingrained in South Korea, a country ruled by army-backed regimes till the mid 1980s.
Apart from the ones run by the army, there are privately-run boot camps as well, which have become quite popular in recent times. People from various walks of life, ranging from school kids to nostalgic war veterans, company employees to families on vacation attend this kind of events. The army says the boot camp is an opportunity to test your limits, enhance your physical ability and learn to adopt the strong spirit of ‘making the impossible, possible.’ Major Lee Joo-Ho, a boot camp spokesperson says: “Boys obviously make up the biggest part because they have the mandatory service coming up.” What he’s referring to is the two years of mandatory conscription that all able-bodied South Korean men have to attend, in order to train themselves in case of an attack from North Korea. “But more young women are showing an interest, since they were allowed to join a college-based officer commissioning program last year.”
The kids are put through all kinds of hardships during the rigorous training schedule lasting up to 10 hours a day, like basic exercises, rappelling, river crossing simulations, mock parachute landings in the pouring rain, and various team events. 15-year-old Yeom Huck said that he was “very nervous but thrilled” just before he hurled himself off an 11-m parachute jump tower. “Everything is fun – but right now I miss my parents,” he added. 17-year-old Kim Tae-Hoon said that his father pushed him to attend camp as soon as he turned 13. His father’s dream of joining the army was foiled due to poor eyesight. But Kim loved camp and has gone back every summer and winter since. “This is so good at relieving stress and much more fun that playing computer games,” he remarked. His younger brother Tae-Hun also found it equally exciting. The 13-year-old said he was “glad to have lost some weight. And I feel more like a man.” Not all the kids are equally thrilled, however. 15-year-old Cho Byung-Chan was angry with his parents for sending him. He does love his computer games, but his parents felt it’s time for him to grow up. “It’s hard. I’m hungry,” he complained.
It’s not just kids, but entire families that take vacations at the boot camps as well. Former army commando Yoon Jeong-Sik, for example, spent a summer vacation at the boot camp with his wife and two daughters. This was 24 years after he retired from the same unit. He wanted his family to learn what he did at the army – pride, self-confidence, and how to get along with others. “So I cajoled my ladies into coming here for character education. At first they were pretty jolly since they had no idea how hard it would be. But now I’m trying not to meet their eyes,” he joked. Luckily for him, his family laughed along. Would you attend a boot camp vacation with your family if you had the chance? I’m not so sure I would. Just looking at the pictures tells me the kids are in a world of pain.
Photos via China News