'From now on, I am your mother'POHANG, North Gyeongsang -- The nickname for the Republic of Korea Marine Corps is "Ghostbusters." Alongside Dogu Beach here lies a training ground for wanna-be marines. There are no seagulls in sight along the beach. Ghostbusters, strong enough to take on invisible demons, have apparently put fear in flying birds.
On a recent weekend, when scorching heat made the thermometer climb to 35 degrees centigrade, the waves at Dogu Beach were running high. The splashing sound of the angry waves, plus the brawling cries from the training troops, made the beach even more formidable. For marines training in the sea, simple conditions of weather simply do not matter. To make a quality Ghost-buster, it takes quality time enduring hard and tough training. For these marines, lifting small inflatable boats that weigh 120 kilograms each is like lifting a pebble. Disciplinary punishment like physical training and push-ups is just a part of the regular routine.
"If anybody could be a marine, I would have never become a marine" or "Once you're a marine, you're a marine forever" are familiar slogans for the Republic of Korea Marine Corps. But to see how these marines achieve the Ghostbuster status makes one realize that those slogans are not just hot air. One Ghostbuster, slightly taller than 160 centimeters, and having a piercing voice, quickly stands out. Kim Li-na, a 25-year-old second lieutenant, has these men under complete control. Her complete control.
As one of two women drill officers at the Republic of Korea Marine Corps, Ms. Kim stands straight, giving her soldiers strict and precise commands. To trainees hoisting one of the inflatable boats, she continually shouts:
"From now on, I am your mother!"
"Carry yourselves like marines!"
"You think you're dancing at a nightclub?"
Last year for the first time the Korea Marine Corps opened its doors to women Ghostbuster hopefuls. Prior to then, the marines had always been a closed, male bastion.
After graduating from Yonsei University, Ms. Kim carved her way into the marines to become a commissioned officer through the competitive process in which 18 candidates apply, but only one is chosen. Since last September, she has been a drill officer, shaping up 156 commissioned officers, including seven women. As a drill officer, she is in charge of educating officers' candidates, taking care of barracks, not to mention physical training and enforcing military discipline. Because marines are among the first to go to war, Ms. Kim's daily routine starts at 5:45 a.m. with 50 push-ups, the earliest of all armed forces. She refuses to stop being a woman, however, even though the early hour does not give her much time to put on her makeup. Ms. Kim even has discipline wearing makeup -- she puts it all on, from foundation to powder, from eye shadow to lipstick.
In dealing with her trainees, however, she remains flexible and reasonable, without using excessive disciplinary punishment. "Marines are and should be strong, but it does not necessarily require violent means," she says. "If you make them understand why and how they do it, they just naturally become true marines."
Though she's only been in the marines for a little more than a year, Ms. Kim seems to have mastered how to make it in the military. And that's not surprising since she has always wanted to be in the military. While her friends wanted to be nurses or teachers, she said she wanted to join the army. As time went by, she read everything related to the military, scouring newspapers, magazines and books, and surfing on the Internet to get information on being a soldier. In 1996, she made it to Yonsei University, majoring in interior design. She did not find her major terribly fascinating and instead decided to make her long-cherished dream come true. The only question was whether it should be the airborne infantry or the marines. Her physical condition was fine: She stood 163 centimeters and weighed 60 kilograms. Only her eyesight, apparently from too much studying, needed a correction. One day her college sweetheart came back from military service in the marines. "He had been only skin and bones before serving, but now he was built," she remembers. "I decided at that moment I wanted to be in the marines."
To her benefit, the marines had recently opened its ranks to women applicants and less than perfect eyesight did not matter in that service branch. Her dream seemed to be coming true, when she suddenly collided with her parents, particularly her mother, who fell sick with a broken heart at news of her daughter's goal. But that did not stop Ms. Kim from being Lieutenant Kim. Once in the marines, however, her fantasies of being in the military began to turn into nightmares. She was hungry all the time and sleepy from ongoing disciplinary punishment. "My trainers were merciless -- like demons. No matter how hard I would try to endure the pain and fatigue, my body just didn't follow my brain. The more tired I got, the more hard work I was given. Many times at night I cried myself to sleep."
In the fifth week of the 14-week boot camp, she says she came close to being paralyzed by muscle spasms. To her drill instructor, however, Ms. Kim was making much ado about nothing. She came near to giving up at that point and went to her barracks. When she was about to pack all her belongings, she suddenly burst into tears.
"I couldn't bear that I might fail," she says. Strangely enough, her pain soon began to disappear. She eventually forgot about going home and stayed until the end, growing confident enough to chew out anybody, run anywhere in double-time and lift small boats again and again. On July 1, 2001 she was commissioned a second lieutenant. Her father said, "To have a commissioned officer as a daughter makes me enormously happy." Her mother, once terribly upset by her daughter's choice of a career, wore a smile that day that would not go away for several weeks.
Ms. Kim is proud of herself. "I came to respect a human being's capability of achieving everything," she says. Though she looks like a born marine, she says, "A marine is made, not born. That is why once a marine, forever a marine."
After being appointed as a drill officer, she had to go through a 16-week-long training program. The training, this time, made her realize how grateful she should be to her own drill officer, whom she once looked upon as Satan. "Drill officers were the ones who made me what I am today. Now I want to be seen as Satan to my troops," she says.
Though she takes pride in being the first female commissioned officer in the Republic of Korea Marine Corps, she does not like it when that part of her background is highlighted. "I joined the service to become a marine, not to be a man," she says. Next year, she is going to marry one of her fellow officers, who was commissioned in the same year with her. With a smile, she says, "For the rest of my life, I will stay as a marine,"
by Lee Man-hoon