Top Celebrities Get Ready to Fullfill Their Mandatory Military Requirements
By Han Eun-jung
The local mandatory conscription system calls on all able-bodied men over the age of 20 to serve for two years. Celebrities are no exception.
Just as students defer their studies and office workers request extended leaves of absence from their employers, actors and singers too are expected to put their careers on hold.
A recent celebrity to do so is "Taegukgi
: The Brotherhood of War" star Won Bin
, who entered the 102nd Reserves in Chunchon, Kangwon Province last November.
Singers Kim Jong-kook
and Jo Seong-mo and boyband Shinhwa member Eric Mun
are among those expected to be drafted in 2006.
With so many stars doing their service, many fans wonder what military life is like for their favorite celebrity.
While there are occasional cases like Won Bin
who insisted on being treated like any other soldier, most apply for a post within the Defense Media Agency (DMA). In the agency, which is affiliated with the Ministry of Defense, they are assigned to the "promotion support troop". There, they fulfill duties as what is called a "yonye sabyong", which literally means "entertaining soldier".
Residing within the defense ministry grounds in a barrack no different from that of any South Korean soldier, the young stars must follow the same conduct codes applied to all.
The only significant difference in their everyday lives is the duties they are expected to attend to.
While soldiers spend their day training, they travel from one unit to another emceeing events and shows organized by the DMA, contribute in the making of infomercials and promotional movies. Some work as DJs and others as presenters or guests on the military channel Korean Forces Network (KFN).
Currently there a total 13 entertaining soldiers in the regiment, six of whom have experience in show business. Among them are singer-turned-actor Yoon Kye-sang
, actors Hong Kyung-in
, Ji Sung
and Bae Jong
But according to An Byong-o, the DMA's public relations department director, not all who apply are accepted as only when there is an opening are they able to join.
Currently, the unit is limited to a total of 13 men and a few of those places must be left open for staff who can provide technical assistance.
An also added that while there is a general assumption that putting celebrities in such posts is a form of special treatment, he said that this is not necessarily so. The everyday lives of entertaining soldiers is not easier nor is it less demanding than ordinary servicemen, he said.
"They undergo whatever difficulties and pressure any other soldier may experience. It just is that the nature of their duties differ", he said.
"Both the soldiers entertaining and those being entertained benefit from it".
One of the non-celebrities in the promotion support troop is Sergeant Seo Jae-kyung
, a 24-year-old film major from Seoul. He reports everyday on the set of KFN studios where he is an assistant director for one of the programs.
Suh said there is nothing special about having celebrities in the regiment. While there are the occasional run-ins that result from the hierarchy he added run-ins of this sort are not specific to them.
It is only when duty calls for them to make trips off base and people stop and ask for autographs he is reminded that to civilians his mates are celebrities.
"They politely turn them down. Because of the given circumstances they seem to want to keep low-profile", Suh said.