Crawling in mud, suffocating in gas-filled rooms, and 6:30 a.m. roll calls are a far cry from the five-star hotels and pampered lives of millionaire pop stars.
But that’s exactly what K-pop sensation BTS is set to experience for the next few years.
The Dynamite stars have announced that they will complete their national service in their South Korean home army.
The country’s law states that able-bodied men must complete national service between the ages of 18 and 35.
Fans had hoped the seven-piece boy band, valued at £105m-130m, would be banned from the service due to a clause allowing celebrities to postpone or opt-out of their duty.
But this week their management company, Big Hit Music, confirmed they would all do their time, starting with eldest member Jin, who will enroll after his 30th birthday in December.
The six other members, born between 1993 and 1997, will follow suit, with the band expected to re-form in 2025.
So what’s in store for the BTS boys when they trade their sold-out tours for the theater of war? Here we look at the hard life of a South Korean soldier.
Morning roll call and insults
The day begins abruptly at 6:30 am with a trumpet tune blaring over the PA system.
Soldiers are expected to get up before breakfast for morning roll call and dress in perfect uniform.
The rest of the day is filled with rigorous military training and grueling physical exercise, including long-distance outdoor runs.
They can also be assigned menial tasks, such as B. cleaning the quarters of senior officers.
For newcomers, the first five weeks are filled with intense training—with a heavy dose of verbal abuse.
Speaking on Goyang TV, former draftee Gene Kim said the instructors in basic training are deliberately trying to break them.
“They are deliberately trying to intimidate you, trying to scare you, to turn you into a soldier,” he said.
Instructors intentionally try to intimidate you, try to scare you to turn you into a soldier… You get yelled at all the time. You have no voice there
“These five weeks of training were one of the most intense experiences I have had. You get shouted at all the time. You have no voice there. You can only do what you are told and nothing else.”
He revealed that you quickly learn to jump to any order very quickly because “if you hesitate, you will be chosen”.
He added: “You’re relearning things you thought you already knew.
“There is a certain way to eat. There is a certain way of standing. There’s a certain way of speaking to people. There’s a certain way of doing everything in the military.”
An investigation by RestoftheWorld.com found that physical attacks by commanding officers are also common.
In 2014, a soldier was beaten to death by senior soldiers after weeks of bullying.
That same year, another conscript stationed near the tense border with North Korea killed five colleagues in a shooting spree.
Authorities said the soldier had difficulty adjusting to military life.
Maskless in the gas-filled room
In one of the exercises designed to prepare soldiers for chemical attacks, groups are sent into rooms filled with poisonous gases.
As they enter with masks on, they are ordered to take them off, and while the gas used has no long-term effects, Gene Kim said, “Anywhere exposed, it would hurt like hell.”
“It feels like a thousand needles just pinching and holding you,” he continued.
“And when you breathe in that gas, it feels like you’re suffocating. Basically you can’t breathe.
“This tiny space is just chaos. All cling to each other. Everyone rolls on the floor.
“There was this one guy, he ran to the door and tried to get out, but there was a guard who stopped him. And it was total chaos.”
Smartphone ban before suicide link
Until 2019, cell phones were banned for the duration of service in the South Korean army.
But the high rates of mental illness and suicides in the ranks prompted a change of heart, and soldiers are now allowed to use devices in the evenings.
While photography is still prohibited, the ability to communicate with family and friends, play video games and follow events on social media has allayed feelings of isolation among conscripts.
Government data shows there were 42 suicide deaths in the military in 2020, up from 62 the previous year and 56 in 2018.
The total number of military law violations also fell from 6,066 to 5,493, which observers attributed to the changed smartphone policy.
Last year it was reported that phone access was under surveillance after a soldier was found exchanging pictures of sexually abused children.
In a statement, the Department of Defense said soldiers have been prevented from engaging in illegal activities, including accessing pornography and gambling.
Sex attack ‘silenced’
Dark claims have been made about military culture – and despite an overhaul, it’s unclear how much has changed.
Last year, an Air Force officer took her own life after she reported being sexually assaulted by a colleague.
She claimed the attack happened after a group dinner and she was pressured to drop the case.
After her death, the government ordered the formation of a cultural surveillance task force, and the Air Force chief officer resigned.
BTS might be in for a bit of a shock when it comes to the food.
Last year, a photo went viral comparing the meager portions soldiers get to the generous portions enjoyed by generals.
The post’s originator, known as Yukdaejeon, has shared other rationed meals and poor hygiene practices in the kitchens.
They included a snap of sodden pieces of newspaper floating in a meaty sauce.
The problem was so bad that former President Moon apologized, saying, “It is unfortunate that our military personnel were provided with substandard meals.”
The rationing system has since been revised, with a 20 percent increase in the budget for soldiers’ meals, the hiring of 47 nutritionists and the opening of food contracts to offers promoting quality food.
“Below Minimum Wage”
Wages have regularly been a contentious issue for the South Korean military and were listed in current President Yoon Suk-yeol’s pledge before he was elected.
In January, he pledged to increase the monthly wages of conscripts from 676,100 won (£420) to 2 million won (£1,240) by the end of his five-year term in 2027.
This is still below the average income of South Koreans, which was 3.8 million won (£2,360) a month last year.
Wages are still an improvement over previous years; Before an 88 percent pay rise in 2018, the soldiers’ monthly earnings were 163,000 won (£101).
https://www.the-sun.com/entertainment/6478187/bts-kpop-south-korea-army-service/ How the world’s biggest pop band BTS traded 5-star hotels for brutal beatings and poison gas training in the South Korean army