Infantry: South Korea Gets With The Program


January 3, 2011: Starting this month, the South Korean Army will extend its basic training from five to eight weeks. The training will also take place six days a week, instead of five. Thus the days of basic training are nearly doubled. The reason given for this is the perceived need to get ready for war with North Korea. In the last year, North Korea has attacked twice, once with torpedoes from a submarine (sinking a corvette and killing 46 sailors) and once with artillery rockets (killing two marines and two civilians and damaging a military base). War with North Korea now seems more likely than at any time since the 1960s.

Over the last few decades, many South Koreans have adopted the policy that North Korea, while a communist police state, was basically harmless. Older South Korean, who remembered the Korean war of 1950-3, and the years of terrorism and commando attacks they suffered from North Korea in the 1960s, never believed that. Nor did the professional officers running the military. So despite changes in public opinion, the South Korean military remained large, and was increasingly modernized over the last three decades. For younger South Koreans, it became fashionable to dodge the draft, and their parents pressured the government to cut the length of conscript service, and to make military life less strenuous. So basic training got shorter and easier, as did military life in general. But the professional NCOs and officers know better. They all followed with great interest the experience of the Americans, from September 11, 2001 to the invasion of Afghanistan and then Iraq. Since there was always a brigade or two of American combat troops in Korea, there were always opportunities for South Korean officers, and even NCOs, to learn from their U.S. counterparts what it was like going from peace to war. One thing they learned was the need for longer and more intense basic training.

By 2007, the U.S. Army had extended basic training to ten weeks and made it much more intense. The additional weeks were used to enable trainees to learn their basic military skills better. Commanders and NCOs in combat zones have been complaining that many newly recruited combat support troops reach them not-quite-ready for combat. There was also a growing trend for new recruits (and young people in general) arriving in poor physical shape (fat and weak). A longer basic helped out there as well. And many combat veterans believe that the combat support troops, especially those running convoys, or otherwise outside the wire (working outside base camps) just have not had sufficient training in combat basics. So by 2005, there was far more time spent in basic teaching specific combat skills known to be lifesavers in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Once soldiers graduate from basic, they go on to specialized training, which can last from a few weeks, to a year, depending on their specialty. If they are going to Iraq or Afghanistan, they usually get some combat training before they leave the United States, or (usually in Kuwait) before they arrive in bandit country.

The additional training is also meant to improve the discipline and general military effectiveness of new troops. During the 1990s, American, and South Korean, basic training was watered down quite a bit, and that resulted in new recruits coming into their first units still acting a lot like civilians. The U.S. Army has been trying to rectify that for the last decade. In South Korea, the army leadership now has permission to do what must be done to get the young recruits ready.




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