Controversy-plagued celebrity unit to be disbanded

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Controversy-plagued celebrity unit to be disbanded

Celebrities will no longer be able to serve their military service in a special entertainment unit that has been at the center of a series of scandals. The latest controversy hit the 16-year old program when a TV show caught two of its famous soldiers on a drunken late-night visit to an illicit massage parlor in Chuncheon, Gangwon.

The Ministry of Defense announced yesterday that the Defense Media Agency’s public relations support unit, which is composed of 15 so-called “entertainment soldiers,” will be completely dissolved by Aug. 1 and its members dispatched to other units.

“The [entertainment] soldiers clearly lowered the morale of other normal soldiers who are sincerely serving the country,” spokesman Wi Yong-seob said in a press conference held yesterday at the ministry headquarters in Yongsan, central Seoul. “It is important for the unit to have the nation’s trust, as it was established to publicize the military’s different activities, but they lost that trust with some serious misbehavior.”

In June, SBS’s “Scene 21” spotted singer Seven (Choi Dong-wook) and Sangchu (Lee Sang-chul) at the illegal adult massage parlor in Chuncheon. The visit followed a drinking session with fellow soldiers after they had performed at an event marking the 63rd anniversary of the start of the 1950-53 Korean War. The program accused the celebrity soldiers of having seriously violated a range of military laws, revealing that they had been living like normal citizens, using mobile phones anytime they liked and frequently drinking alcohol after work hours.

Celebrity soldiers’ responsibilities include participating in TV and radio programs produced by the military and maintaining troop morale by doing shows at bases around the country. Many top celebrities have served and are serving with the unit. Pop star Rain (Jung Ji-hoon), who finished his 21-month military service earlier this month, caused controversy when it was discovered that he had been dating actress Kim Tae-hee while in the unit.

The strong public criticism about the apparent unfair advantages celebrity soldiers were receiving led to a military investigation of the unit.

The Defense Ministry said that Choi and Lee had left their accommodations in Chuncheon without authorization from a supervising officer and that three other star soldiers were found to be carrying mobile phones without authorization.

The offending soldiers and officers responsible will be punished, it said.

BY KWON SANG-SOO [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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