By Park Si-soo
Only weeks after North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23, Kwon Ki-nam, a college freshman majoring in judo, filed an online application to join the Marine Corps.
The deadly attack, which killed two South Korean Marines and two civilians in the forefront border island, failed to dissuade the young man from applying to become a member of the 27,000-strong armed force.
The 20-year-old is one of a growing number of applicants for the Marine Corps.
Kwon is waiting for the result of his physical and interview and, if successful, he will receive a five-week notoriously grueling training at a boot camp starting February.
"I know the training is extremely tough. And it's also possible that I will be posted to a military flashpoint like Yeonpyeong where clashes with North Korea could take place. But I really want to be a Marine", Kwon told The Korea Times Wednesday.
He said he would apply again if his application is rejected.
"Frankly speaking, I'm a bit nervous. But I believe a challenging experience as a Marine will reward me much more than what I can learn from other military units", he said. "I think I will be more confident about myself if I complete my service as a Marine. Then I will be able to do anything in society no matter how tough it is".
There has been a spate of surveys showing that many Korean young men would run away instead of fight should a war break out on the Korean Peninsula.
However, the Marine Corps, a tough military unit with the famous motto of "once a Marine, always a Marine", has become more appealing to a growing number of young adults, military officers and analysts say.
Um Jung-sik (alias) is another applicant for the Marine Corps. He grew up in an affluent family in Seoul and studied in Britain for years. He could have legally dodged mandatory military service in Korea by seeking the status of a long-term resident in the European country. But he didn't.
"North Korea's shelling of Yeonpyeong incited me a lot. It led me to apply for the Marine Corps", he said.
Analysts say the recently military tension with the North helped burnish the image of the Marines.
They said it seems to have developed a cool image among young male adults to join by striking their basic desire to be viewed as masculine, strong and adventurous, resulting in a surge in the number of Marine applicants.
Psychologist Hwang Sang-min of Yonsei University in Seoul said the Yeonpyeong incident was partially attributable to the sudden increase in applicants, but another key factor behind it was that "the deadly incident led people to view Marines as true soldiers and a key pillar of national defense, galvanizing their desire to take pride in being a member of the unit".
The latest once-a-month recruitment carried out early this month to select 1,011 newcomers was oversubscribed 4.03 times, an all-time high competition rate, according to the Military Manpower Administration.
It compares with 3.6 for the December and 2.9 in November, right before the Yeonpyeong incident, it said. The number of applicants has gradually increased since 2010, but it marked a steep increase following the incident, it added.
Drawing keen attention from the public on the Marines was that popular actor Hyeon Bin
, 29, has applied to join and is now waiting for confirmation.
Hyeon is now enjoying his heyday as an actor after taking a leading role in the hit drama "Secret Garden"
, which ended last weekend.
A military officer said his application, made just months before he reached the age limit, will put a positive spin on recruiting in the future. Another entertainer, Oh Jong-hyuk
, a singer from now-defunct boy band Click-B, has also applied for the Marines' special search unit.
New Marines line up at the harbor on Baengnyeong Island, a border island with North Korea in the West Sea, before being taken to a military base there in this photo taken Jan. 10. / Korea Times
해병대 지원하는 젊은이 수 많아져
지난 11월 23일 북한이 연평도를 포격한지 수주가 지난 12월 유도를 전공하는 대학 1년생인 권기남군은 온라인으로 해병대에 지원했다.
최전방 섬에서 두 명의 해병과 두 명의 민간인이 죽은 이 포격에도 불구하고 권군에게 총 2만 7,000명인 해병대에 지원하는 것을 막지 못했다.
권(20)군은 점점 늘어나고 있는 해병대 지원자 중 한 명이다. 권군은 체력시험과 인터뷰 결과를 기다리고 있어 합격하면 그는 2월부터 신병훈련소에서 힘들기로 악명높은 5주간의 훈련에 들어 간다.
권군은 수요일 본지와의 인터뷰에서 "훈련이 엄청나게 힘들다는 것을 압니다. 북한과의 충돌이 일어날 수 있는 연평도 같은 일촉즉발의 군사 대치 지역에서 근무할 수도 있다"며 "그럼에도 불구하고 정말로 해병이 되고 싶다"고 말했다.