Best buddies pair up to heed military’s callIf you had to spend every second of the next two years with a single person, whom would you choose?
Jun Hyun-wook and Jung Tae-jun knew. They chose each other. The two young men, both 22 years old, are being inducted into the army on Tuesday.
Hyun-wook is a junior at Kwangwoon University with a double major in English literature and Chinese language. Tae-jun has been preparing to enter a university in Seoul since studying Chinese in Beijing last year.
The pair have known each other since they were juniors in high school nearly six years ago. Their passion for the Chinese language and culture made them close friends, but they never thought they would serve their military careers together.
“We don’t remember who first suggested that we go into the army together,” Hyun-wook said. Tae-jun nodded: “I’m not sure, either. The thought of going together popped up as soon as we heard about the military’s new enlistment program. It seems pretty natural that we’d go together.”
The Ministry of National Defense adopted a new program in January that allows pairs of conscripts to join the army and serve together from boot camp to discharge. The program, called Accompanied Enlistment, or Dongban Ibdae in Korean, assigns the recruits to the same units and the same barracks.
The goal of the program is to help recruits adapt to military life faster and easier so their morale and performance are better. The Military Manpower Administration believes that the families of soldiers will feel less anxious if their sons are going into the army with friends.
The military plans to recruit 20,000 soldiers this year through the program. It began accepting applications via the Internet on January 2, and it took only three days for the first 3,300 spots ― 1,650 pairs ― to be filled.
Hyun-wook and Tae-jun locked down their spots by staying up all night at Tae-jun’s house and filing their applications the moment the site was opened at 9 a.m. “We didn’t want to miss the opportunity of being among the first pairs to go into the army together,” Hyun-wook said.
When they checked their status, they were surprised to learn they were the 976th pair to be accepted. “I thought we would probably be the first pair, but I guess other people had faster computers than ours,” mused Tae-jun.
The second round, in February, drew even more applicants for the 2,922 openings. So many, in fact, that the server crashed for three hours because of the crush of people logging onto the Web site.
The competition for the third round, in March, was even more fierce. The 2,258 slots were filled in under five hours. As with previous rounds, most applicants were classmates, close friends or brothers.
Recruits who apply for Accompanied Enlistment can’t go into just any army program. Applicants, who must file as a pair, are assigned to either the 306th Replenishment Battalion in Euijeongbu, Gyeonggi province, or the 102d Replenishment Battalion in Chuncheon, Gangwon province. From there, they’re assigned to fill empty spots at other bases.
The army also accepts applications for infantry and artillery battalions, according to Lim Il-gyu, chief public affairs officer at the Military Manpower Administration.
The infantry, artillery and replenishment corps weren’t Hyun-wook’s or Tae-jun’s first choices. Hyun-wook had wanted to join the fire-fighting troops. Tae-jun dreamed of becoming a marine. “We both got turned down,” Hyun-wook said, and Tae-jun laughed.
Just a few days remain until the pair goes to boot camp at Euijeongbu. Both are cheerful, energetic and chatty. At this juncture, they seem to think that joining the army is pretty much the same as going on a trip together.
“You hear about how rough and tough the training is from your father, older brothers and friends,” Hyun-wook said. “Well, we’ll just have to go through the same thing. That’s all.” Tae-jun agreed: “Sooner or later, we have to go to the military. We decided it’s better to get it done and over with.”
The important thing is that they’ll be together. Hyun-wook and Tae-jun saw each other daily until Tae-jun went to the Beijing Language and Culture University in December 2001. “It was really great to learn what I had always wanted to learn,” Tae-jun acknowledged. “But, I was extremely lonely. I just couldn’t continue living and studying alone in Beijing without my friends and family.”
So, he returned three months later. Since then, Hyun-wook and Tae-jun have been inseparable. “We see each other almost every day after school,” Hyun-wook said. “We work out together.” During the past six years, they have learned boxing, swimming, judo and taekwondo together. They go to movies and concerts; they laugh and brood together.
“We agreed to not waste our time while we are in the military,” Tae-jun said. They are planning to continue studying Chinese during their spare time, although they know that may be difficult.
Though best of friends, Hyun-wook and Tae-jun aren’t so similar. Hyun-wook is the eldest son in his family; he’s confident and has traveled abroad extensively. Tae-jun is the youngest son; he blossomed under his two elder sisters’ and parents’ indulgence and is more sensitive and talkative.
The two get along because opposites attract ― not only in romance but also in friendships. They love chatting over a meal or simply walking down a street. “I do most of the talking,” Tae-jun said. “Of course, I do most of listening,” Hyun-wook replied. They talk about everything, from the cool high school teacher that Tae-jun once admired to what kinds of careers they plan to pursue. “We never run out of topics,” Tae-jun said.
Going through trying times can strengthen or break a friendship. Hyun-wook and Tae-jun have little fear that their friendship can be tested. “We’ve never fought during the past six years,” Hyun-wook said. “What’s there to fight about?”
The two got their military haircuts last Thursday, their black hair falling into piles and mingling on the floor. They leave for boot camp on Tuesday. “We look forward to doing it,” Hyun-wook said. “Yeah, right,” Tae-jun replied.
Their first leave will be in 100 days. When it comes, they’ll probably spend their time together.
by Ser Myo-ja