Time for the military to self-reflect

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Time for the military to self-reflect

Five soldiers were killed and seven wounded at a military outpost in Goseong County, Gangwon Province, after one of their comrades threw a grenade and then opened fire. He fled with ammunition and a grenade, sending off a full-scale manhunt in the mountainous region that borders the North on the eastern coast. Residents have been asked to stay inside since daybreak. The shooting spree took place on the frontline, as tensions with North Korea have been high and the South lacks a defense minister.

Kim Kwan-jin, the former defense minister and now chief of the National Security Office, is commanding the situation because defense minister-designate Han Min-koo is yet to be confirmed. Military authorities are likely be questioned for letting the sergeant get away with a grenade, a rifle and some 60 rounds of ammunition. The military’s disciplinary system will also fall under heavy scrutiny, as the suspect had been on “special watch” for failing to adapt to life in the service. How he was allowed access to such weaponry despite his questionable psychological health must be thoroughly investigated.

The suspect, identified only as Sergeant Lim, was set to be discharged on Sept. 16, and was obliged to receive routine checkups following poor results on a personality test. He passed a recent evaluation in November and was deployed to the outpost. The rampage could have been avoided if the military had been more thorough with its psychological testing and monitoring of soldiers who experience difficulty adjusting.

The military must conduct a thorough investigation into the incident, including private experts and the victims’ parents to assure transparency. In order to prevent such accidents, the military must strengthen its character assessments and psychological testing, as well as physical exams to determine fitness for military service.

The management at general outposts is also concerning. A second lieutenant, with just a year of military experience, is usually placed in charge in outposts. But he cannot be relied upon entirely to look over all his soldiers in emergency situations.

Any parents who have sons in the military will be anxious about the news. The military has so far not released the full names of the suspect and the victims, but it must be quick in informing the parents. In a country like Korea with a mandatory conscription policy, communication between the military and civilians is essential. Safety for residents who live near outposts must also be strengthened.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 23, Page 30

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