The Ministry of National Defense will distribute 11,364 mobile phones to military barracks by the end of this year in its latest effort to improve living conditions for the country’s 630,000 soldiers.
“We will distribute one mobile phone for a group of eight to 10 soldiers in a barrack to share so that they could use it during free periods after working hours or during weekends,” a military official said.
For security reasons, the phones will be programmed only to receive calls and will not be smartphones. The military explained that soldiers will be able to send text messages to ask their relatives to call them.
The military plans to test-run the phone service in frontline units first before expanding it to other barracks nationwide.
The military’s plan to distribute phones comes after a series of military abuse cases last year that rocked the organization and shocked the nation.
The military came under intense scrutiny after the death in April 2014 of an Army private, who in the weeks before had endured severe physical and mental abuse at the hands of his superiors - an incident many critics said occurred due to the Korean military’s failure to curb a deep-rooted hierarchical culture among its ranks.
Just two months later, in June 2014, a sergeant in the Army’s 22nd Infantry Division stationed at a frontline border post in Goseong, Gangwon, killed five fellow soldiers and wounded seven in a shooting spree that resulted in a 23-hour manhunt and a failed suicide attempt.
According to authorities, the soldier, who had a month left, reportedly went on the rampage after becoming fed up with bullying in the barracks.
In the aftermath of these abuse cases, the National Assembly set up a special committee in November tasked with improving working and living conditions for conscripted soldiers.
On Friday, the committee wrapped up its activities and announced a list of proposals for the government, including recognizing the skills acquired by soldiers during their 22-month military term via an official certificate that could be considered in civilian life.
“People used to say that a man would only waste two years of his life in the military. But we will change this culture by opening up opportunities for solders to learn skills that could be used in and accepted by society,” said Saenuri Rep. Choung Byoung-gug, who led the body.
It also called on universities to recognize those who have fulfilled their duty in consideration of scholarships.
The committee also recommended the government assemble an extra budget of 565.2 billion won ($482.6 million) that would go toward improving conditions for soldiers over the next three years.
BY JEONG YONG-SOO, KANG JIN-KYU [firstname.lastname@example.org]