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  • Kim Ju-young

[Issue] Military Service Exemption Continues to Be Controversial

No.165 / Sep 4, 2023

Republic of Korea (ROK) males before 31 years of age must fulfill military duty. Before enrolling in the army, applicants should undergo physical check-up. The Ministry of National Defense (MND) classifies the applicants into seven physical grades depending on their result of physical examination.

If the applicants are classified into grades between 1 and 3, they must choose either Republic of Korea Army (ROKA), Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) or Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN). If the applicants receive a physical grade of 4, they are supposed to work in an official administrative post, such as school, village office and subway station. If the applicants receive the grade of 5, they cannot join the ROKA, ROKAF, and ROKN. Furthermore, they cannot work like the applicants in grade 4. However, when the war occurs, the applicants classified into physical grade 5 can support the soldiers. If the applicants are suffering from a disease or mental disability, they receive a physical grade of 6. They cannot go to the army and cannot support the soldiers in a war. If the applicant is classified into grade 7, they must undergo the physical examination again. The applicants receive their grades between 5 and 6 through re-examination and cannot enroll in the ROK military service.

The person who has won a gold, silver, or bronze medal in the Olympics and a gold medal in the Asian Games is also exempted from military service. For example, Son Heung-min, who is a famous soccer player in South Korea, did not enroll in the army because he won a gold medal in 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games. Generally, normal young men must enroll in the army. However, a person with disability cannot enroll in the army. Besides, if a man is less than 31 years of age and lives in a region of the Military Demarcation Line, they are exempted from the ROK military service.

However, the exemption case which is applicable to Olympics is in controversy these days. When ROK was a developing country, the ROK government ruled out the sports player who received medals in the Olympics and got a gold medal in the Asian Games in ROK military service to promote ROK itself. However, some people argue not to give a military service exemption to sports players because ROK is a developed country now. This exemption makes many young men who must fulfill the military obligations avoid the army illegally. For example, a volleyball player named Cho Jae-sung issued a false diagnosis to avoid enrolling in the army. RAVI, who is a singer, used the military service evasion broker to avoid enrolling.

BTS is a famous K-pop group in the world. They promoted Korea in a variety of ways through their songs and music videos. Therefore, some people argue that BTS should be exempted from the ROK military service. However, the problem regarding military service exemption is very sensitive to ROK’s young men who must fulfil the military duties. Therefore, the discussion regarding the exemption from military service is a little sensitive in ROK.


By Kim Ju-young, AG Reporter

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