Black berets now being worn by gal warriors

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Black berets now being worn by gal warriors

“Ah, invincible warriors with black berets,” sang special forces soldiers during a flag hoisting ceremony on Nov. 10 at the Special Warfare Command headquarters in Seoul.

Martial music aficionados would have instantly noticed something new in that line in the song “Black Berets,” which celebrates Korea’s special forces.

A year ago, the lyric was altered on a direct order by Special Forces Commander Chun In-bum, who worried that the original line could alienate certain soldiers.

The original lyric of the over 40-year old popular military song went, “Ah, invincible guys with black berets.”

The special forces aren’t all guys anymore.

Commander Chun took charge of the elite force last year and he ordered the anthem changed shortly thereafter in consideration of the increasing number of female soldiers. Though the special forces command does not disclose its numbers, the overall number of female military members has increased steadily, reaching 9,228 this year from 6,598 in 2010, according to National Defense Ministry.

The changes by the elite military unit have wider implications for the military in general, said a military official.

“The black berets are a symbol of the special warfare command, which produces the toughest soldiers,” he said. “The special forces’ decision to change the line in the song will have a ripple effect across military units.”

In an interview, Chun, who has received a number of medals from the U.S. government including the Bronze Star for his work for the Multinational Forces Iraq, said he made the decision because he didn’t want female elite soldiers to feel alienated.

“Female soldiers tend to perform better in some military fields than male counterparts,” he said. “For instance, they excel in firing exercises that requires high concentration levels.”

Chun is married to Shim Hwa-jin, president of Sungshin Women’s University. which became the country’s second women’s university to set up a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in 2011 after Sookmyung Women’s University, which began accepting cadets a year earlier. Shim’s university captured public attention when their cadets topped 110 schools in a winter exercise last year, beating male cadets from 108 universities and surprising many in and out of the military.

Korea is not alone in being more sensitive about gender issues in the military.

In a similar move, the British Navy changed its toast made on Saturday nights to, “To our Families” last year. The traditional toast was to “To our wives and sweethearts.” The change was made in recognition of the fact that women had served at sea for over two decades. Another toast made on Tuesday nights, “To our men,” was altered to “To our sailors.”


BY YOO SEONG-WON, KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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