Army attempts to curb abuse with peer system
In a move intended to eradicate rampant abuse and harassment in the military, the Army has decided that it will introduce a new hierarchy system for its soldiers.
According to a military source, all soldiers enlisted in the same year will be regarded as peers under the plan, regardless of rank and seniority in a position. Currently, hierarchy among soldiers is based on which month they join. Under the new system, a soldier who enlists in the military in January, for instance, and a conscript who begins his military duty in December will be considered equals, similar to classmates.
A private will automatically be promoted to a private first class after three months, which includes basic training, and after an additional seven months, he will be moved up to a corporal. In another seven months, he will be promoted to sergeant, and four months after that the Army conscript’s 21-month military service will be complete.
Under the new hierarchy, in the barracks, a private would be considered the peer of a corporal even though their conscription dates may be as much as 11 months apart.
“We are trying to minimize hierarchical order to promote a violence-free culture in the barracks,” a military official told the JoongAng Ilbo on Tuesday. “When we introduce this system systemically, the disputes between senior and junior soldiers will be reduced.”
The nation’s military was severely criticized for its culture of cruelty in the barracks following a string of incidents involving abuse and harassment. In one of the most attention-grabbing cases this year, four soldiers were charged with murder for the death in April of a young conscript, whom they routinely beat and humiliated.
Amid the controversy, the Army vowed reform, and so far a number of experts appear to support the new proposal.
“Korea’s military practically has 21 different ranks for the 21 months of a soldier’s service period,” said Shin In-Kyun, the head of the Korea Defense Network, a Seoul-based think tank. “Because the hierarchy and ranks are the main reason for abuse and harassment among soldiers, it was positively discussed at the military reform committee.”
In other countries in which military service is voluntary, such as the United States, a promotion is performance based and there is no hierarchy among soldiers in the same rank. In Korea, however, a hierarchical order is maintained and determined even among those with the same rank based on the number of months they have served.
According to the Army, the new system has been test running since 2012 in the 9th Infantry Division and in some units in the 8th Infantry Division, with soldiers who previously served or are currently serving in those units alleging that it has made a marked impact, drastically reducing violence in the barracks.
Choi Seong-gyu, a 25-year-old office worker who formerly served in the 9th Infantry Division, said that abuse and harassment disappeared completely with the reform. “It felt like a totally different unit,” he said.
Others, however, worry that the new system, when expanded to the entire Army, could have adverse effects. “When a private first class and a sergeant maintain a relationship as peers, it won’t be possible to control a squad during an exercise,” said one officer. “No one will want to point out the mistakes of their juniors, and training will become inefficient.”
But the Army, while acknowledging potential pitfalls, claimed it would modify the current system to make it work. “Squad leaders will gradually be converted from sergeants to noncommissioned officers,” said an Army official. “We are also reviewing a plan to operate a six-month peer program before introducing the one-year peer program.”
BY YOO SEONG-UN, SER MYO-JA [firstname.lastname@example.org]