A preventable tragedyThe shooting spree by a Korean Army reservist during compulsory training should have been foreseen. While the military needs to strengthen its reserve corps due to declining numbers of eligible soldiers due to our low birth rate, its supervision and management has not improved.
The military has a computer profile of each reservist, and the training commander should have checked if any of them had special records before training. He should have double-checked their files and been more scrupulous before handing loaded rifles to the soldiers. A trainee named Choi was classified as B-grade, which means he required special attention. In other words, he was mentally unstable. He had to move to another camp six months after he joined the Army and received therapy for depression six times before and after he served military duty from 2012 to 2014. The military could not have known that he wrote a suicide note and sent messages to his friends about killing himself. But if training officials only checked their computer profiles, they would not have thought of placing a loaded firearm in his hands on a shooting range with others.
Supervision of the training was also slack. Ranges should require all firearms be unloaded and securely encased or trigger-locked prior to the soldiers entering. The firearms are then fixed onto a range. Supervisors lamely said they could not have expected Choi would suddenly turn the rifle around and shoot at comrades standing next to him because he had feigned fixing the gun into the holder. Blaming a shortage of staff is also an excuse. Even if the military does not have enough resources, it should have staff supervising shooting practices.
The supervisors and trainers were all unarmed. The killer was able to shoot randomly at fellow soldiers and no one could do anything until he used the second-to-last bullet to kill himself. Some were busy fleeing. The training camp is in the middle of Seoul. We could not imagine what could have happened if the killer went onto the road and aimed at civilians.
The Defense Ministry and Army must come up with strong countermeasures. There are over 28,000 soldiers with mental health issues. They should not be discriminated against, but at the least they need special handling. Firearms training must be strictly supervised. There must also be a separate manual to deal with reservists with health records. The training guidelines must be uniform so that all training follows the same rules. Reservists also must remember they are soldiers when they are in training.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 15, Page 34