Female ROTC programs see a rise in competition
The military rallying cry echoed throughout the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) dormitory at Sookmyung Women’s University.
It was early morning roll call, and at 6:20 a.m., the female soldiers in training were just beginning their day.
The cadets then began to sing the national anthem, their eyes shining and voices loud, valiantly expressing their enthusiasm and determination.
Afterward, the ladies headed to Hyochang Stadium near their ROTC dormitory for their daily run - part of their physical training.
After warming up, they ran 10 laps, equivalent to 4 kilometers, or 2.5 miles.
“We do physical training every day,” said First Lt. Park Jin-ah, the discipline officer. “At first, the girls burned out after running one lap, but now they can finish 10.”
For women in Korea, serving in the military has become an ever more popular career option over recent years, the result of a bleak job market and even dimmer prospects for college graduates.
“Half of my students are women,” said Park Kyeong-jin, the operating chief of the Seoul Army Noncommissioned Officer Academy. “With the job market getting more competitive, the popularity of becoming a female soldier has risen because it is considered a stable job.”
This year, the number of female soldiers in Korea’s military surged to 9,228. Four years ago in 2010, that figure stood at just 6,598.
The Korea Army Academy at Yeongcheon, North Gyeongsang, which recruited female applicants for the first time this year, received 961 applicants for just 20 seats.
In the past four years alone, competition among females to become a noncommissioned officer has risen drastically, with more than 10 applying for every spot.
“When I first entered ROTC, I worried about my stamina, and a million thoughts popped into my head whenever I ran,” said Kim Tae-hee, an ROTC cadet.
“Now I’ve become much better since I train every day,” she added.
Sookmyung Women’s University and Sungshin Women’s University are the only two women’s universities that currently have ROTC programs.
The former’s program differs from others in that the cadets stay in a university dormitory to adapt themselves to military life in advance.
Between the two universities, 60 cadets are selected every year, among the 250 female ROTC cadets nationwide.
Across the country, the competition rate to win a place in an RTOC program is 1 out of 5.
“We are gradually expanding branches of service for female soldiers and opened a female artillery branch this year,” said an official with the Ministry of National Defense.
“We are also planning to increase the number of female officers, which currently make up 5.3 percent of all officers, up to 7 percent by 2020,” the official added.
For many cadets, however, the choice to serve was clear.
“I was exposed to the military’s uniforms and songs when I was young because my father is a soldier,” said cadet Lee Jung-eun.
“I have always thought it would be an honor to be a solider and protect the country because not many people have that opportunity.”
Seong Mun-young, another cadet, was at her grandfather’s funeral when she decided to become a soldier.
It was there, she said, at the Seoul National Cemetery, where more than 173,000 Koreans who fought for the nation are buried, that she made up her mind to follow in the footsteps of her grandfather, a military veteran.
However, stereotypes about female cadets still exist despite recent advancements, which can make the mental challenges of service just as tough as the physical feats.
Yoo Ji-hye, a cadet in Sookmyung Women’s University’s ROTC program, admitted “it was upsetting” that many of her male comrades looked down on her.
But despite the hurdles, most of the women are optimistic.
When asked what kind of officer she wants to be, Shin Mi-young, a cadet at Sookmyung Women’s University said she wanted to be a “sister-like leader.”
“I’ve heard many of my male friends say bad things about their platoon leaders,” she said.
But, Shin added, “I want to be a leader who has a warm heart and can communicate with my comrades like a sister or a friend.”
By KOH SEOK-SEUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]