Korean celebrity enlistment breaks the fans’ hearts but also can be confusing at times. How could Lee Min Ho skip the Korean Army for a desk job? Why did Joo Won join the Army when he could have served in the police? Read more to find out!
1. South Korea is still technically at war
Enlistment is mandatory for Korean men because the North and the South never signed a peace treaty after the Korean War (1950 – 1953).
2. Korean men have been serving since 1948
The Republic of Korea and its Armed Forces were founded in the same year.
3. Males from 20 to 38 years of age enlist
When Korean men turn 20, they receive a letter to enlist in the following year. In 2018, males born in 1998 were invited to enlist in 2019. Usually, Korean men enlist after freshman or sophomore year of college.
Though not required by law, women can enlist as well. They could apply directly to an armed force to become a non-commissioned officer or join Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) to become a commissioned officer.
4. Delayed enlistment is possible
Though the enlistment letter arrives after the 20th birthday, men could postpone the enlistment for many reasons according to Korea’s Military Manpower Association (MMA): Illness, death of a family member, university and graduate school, enlistment of a sibling, opening a business, raising a child, and more.
However, men can’t postpone enlistment for any reason when they turn 29. When it comes to Korean celebrity enlistment, the actors tend to join the army when they’ve turned 29.
5. Men serve 21~24 months depending on the branch
Army and Marine Corps: 21 months
Navy: 23 months
Air Force and civil service: 24 months
6. They don’t get paid much
Army soldiers receive the following monthly payments.
Private: $135 (Approx.)
Private first class: $145
7. Celebrity enlistment has been a sensitive topic
The public is unforgiving of draft dodgers because of past scandals involving celebrities and sons of wealthy families.
In 2002, then K-pop star Steve Yoo (Yoo Seung Joon) was banned from setting foot in Korea ever again when he avoided enlistment by becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Starting September, MMA will expand its rule to check the military status of the sons of high-ranking government officials to include male celebrities and athletes.
8. Celebrities try to enlist “hyun-yeok” (active duty) to avoid backlash
Celebrities try to serve hyun-yeok (active duty) with the average Joe to avoid any possible controversy. A hyun-yeok (현역) personnel serves in one of the armed services: Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.
But when it comes to Korean celebrity enlistment, there’s an option to serve at the police band. Currently, TVXQ’s Changmin and Super Junior’s Donghae and Choi Siwon serve in the Seoul police agency’s promotional unit. This 20-member police band stages short plays and music performances, and this service isn’t considered hyun-yeok.
The “My Sassy Girl” actor Joo Won auditioned and got accepted to the police band but decided to join the Army instead.
9. If men are not healthy, they serve in “gong-ik” (civil service)
If a man doesn’t pass the physical examination or has a preexisting medical–physical or mental–condition that prevents him from serving active duty, he is exempt from joining the armed services. Instead, he serves in gong-ik (civil service).
Yoo Ah In’s and Seo In Guk’s preexisting medical conditions might prevent them from serving active duty. Lee Min Ho had a serious car accident in his early twenties. His public service starts on May 12 in Gangnam district office in Seoul.
10. Korean men share a strong bond over the military experience
Koreans say you’re not a man until you’ve served in the military. Military service is a common pop culture reference, and men are proud to talk about their experiences.
Last but not least, here’s “Goblin” actor Gong Yoo giving out autographs to fellow army officers when he had a brief training in the base!
We hope this cleared up the questions you had about Korean celebrity enlistment. If you have any questions about the military service, leave a comment below or hit us up on @whatakdrama.