Military studies enter campuses

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Military studies enter campuses

The Korean Army is turning to an unlikely source to nurture short-term officer candidates: civilian universities.

“Even though the Army can produce would-be officers from [its own academies], there are not enough young officers,” Army Maj. Lee Dong-heun said recently. “So the Army plans to train more young officers to deal with future conflicts that require high technology by luring more young men and women from outside the military sector.”

Last Tuesday, Gen. Han Min-koo, the Korean Army chief of staff, and the presidents of Yeungnam, Cheongju, Konyang and Yong In universities agreed to establish military studies departments at those schools beginning in 2011.

The announcement comes in the wake of plans to reduce the term of mandatory military service from 21 months and 10 days to 18 months beginning in 2014. With the term reduction - begun under the Roh Moo-hyun administration, when mandatory military service lasted 24 months - Korea expects to see its active-duty troops to shrink from some 690,000 to 517,000 under a national project called Defense Reform 2020.

Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said it is critical to make sure that military strength won’t be weakened despite the reduced troops, and the military studies program is part of this effort, along with plans to better deploy existing soldiers, recruit more women and replace some troops with high-tech defense devices.

‘A win-win situation’

The Army already has its four-year military academy, the two-year Korea Army Academy in Yeongcheon, North Gyeongsang, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and the Officer Candidate School. And four other local universities - Daejeon, Chosun, Kyungnam and Wonkwang - have military studies departments up and running. Daejeon University was the first, opening its department in 2004.

“The Army asked us if our school would establish the department if the Army was willing to pay for it,” said Kim Jeong-ki, head of the department of military studies at Daejeon University. “The Army wanted to develop more potential commanding officers from the civilian sector, and we accepted because it meant the school could take in more students. We thought it would have a cross-promotional effect as well. It was a win-win situation.”

Win-win it was; the program has been so successful that Col. Eom Hyo-sik, an Army officer responsible for public affairs, said universities now compete to get the department set up on their campuses.

Twenty-three applied to establish military departments in this go-round, and the Army made its choice of four after a screening process that included on-the-spot surveys and interviews.

“The military studies department is designed to teach students about military theory from their freshman year, so that they can get used to what the military is and get an advantage by becoming officers,” Maj. Lee Seong-jun, an Army officer in charge of public relations, said.

“The new military department at each school will take in 40 students, and all graduates will be commissioned as second lieutenants after they complete basic military training upon graduation.”

Lee added that the Army offers full four-year scholarships to all male students. Female students are excluded from the scholarship since their mandatory service term is relatively short.

The four new schools plan to build research institutes related to military studies on their campuses and recruit retired officers as full-time professors, Lee said.

“Enrolled students will not only study theory but also will take advantage of summer vacations to tour and get basic military training at certain Army units,” said Lee.

The big difference between the Korea Military Academy and the military studies departments is that the former aims at fostering career officers, who serve until retirement age, whereas the latter focus on producing officer candidates eligible for short-term service of five to six years, Eom said.

Eom added that short-term officers who wish to serve longer have to go through a separate screening process in their fifth or sixth year of service.

Better education, longer terms

Last week, the Navy signed a mutual academic exchange agreement with Sungshin Women’s University to not only improve combat capabilities by educating naval officers more professionally, but also train women earlier so that they can be more competitive in service.

“Female officers are very actively engaged in their duties in desk, field and overseas as commanding officers,” Admiral Jung Ok-keun, Korea’s chief of naval operations, said. “The Navy is trying to obtain potential naval officers, including good female officers, and improve individual competitiveness.”

So far, the Navy has made academic exchange agreements with 62 universities.

The Air Force, meanwhile, is looking at financial incentives and extended terms of service in order to retain its fighter pilots, said Lt. Col. Yoon Young-sam, an Air Force officer in charge of public relations.

Currently, the Air Force has three ways of producing pilots. Most are trained in the Korea Air Force Academy. Others come from the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Korea Aerospace and Hanseo universities.

But some are selected as flight scholarship students between their freshman and junior years at civilian universities. After graduation they’re put into full-time flight school, and if they successfully complete this program they become pilots.

The issue here is retention. Last year, 142 ranking pilots voluntarily left the Air Force.

It’s a number that’s been climbing since 44 pilots resigned in 2004: In 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, the figures rose to 81, 102, 138 and 145, respectively, as more pilots joined commercial airlines.

To address this, the Air Force said it is considering producing fewer fighter pilots, 155 from the current 170 to 180 a year, as well as extending the mandatory service term from the current 13 years to 15 for officers commissioned from the academy, and from 10 years to 13 for officers commissioned outside the academy.

The Air Force also plans to provide a financial incentive of 12 million won ($10,632) per officer who extends his term.

In the meantime, the Ministry of National Defense said on Thursday that it plans to establish a four-year Defense Medical School by 2015 in order to foster more professional military medical officers who can serve for a long time.

“Currently, there are 2,246 active-duty medical officers. Ninety-six percent, or 2,154 of them, are officers who are fulfilling their mandatory three-year service,” said Kang Seong-heub, head of the health policy division at the ministry.

“Those officers are amateurs who cannot conduct surgical operations well.

“It is necessary to build the medical school in order to secure skilled military medical officers and improve our treatment abilities so that the Korean people can trust us,” he said.

The new medical school is a 240 billion won project aimed at training 40 medical officers a year to serve long stints in the military, Kang said.

He added that the school graduates will be commissioned as second lieutenants after graduation and will serve at least 15 years, including five years as interns.

By Lee Min-yong []
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