Military Becomes More Multicultural

      June 13, 2012 09:24

      A fresh wind of multiculturalism is blowing even through the military, with some junior officers from mixed-race families soon reaching the age where they can be promoted to senior ranks.

      According to data compiled by the Ministry of Public Administration and Security in January last year, 1,165 19-year-old men from multicultural families become subject to the physical examination for the draft this year. The number will rise to 2,021 in 2016, 3,045 in 2019, 5,000 in 2026, and over 8,000 in 2028.

      Currently, they account for a mere 0.3 percent of men subject to the draft, but the proportion will increase to 1 percent in 2019. From 2021 the population of 19-year-old men, now at about 300,000, will drop to about 200,000 due to the low birthrate. The proportion of mixed-race men will then rise rapidly to 2 percent in 2025, 3.3 percent in 2027, and 4.6 percent in 2030.

      A military officer said, "We assume that there are actually more enlisted men from mixed-race families in the military than on the register, because many of them may not have been honest about their family backgrounds."

      Some 179 soldiers from avowedly multicultural families are enlisted in the Army, nine in the Air Force, and five in the Marine Corps.

      A Korean soldier smiles at his Filipino mother at a Marine Corps training center in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province in February.

      It was only a year ago that the military began accepting children from multicultural families. Until then it effectively exempted them on grounds that people of "obviously identifiable mixed-race heritage" would suffer serious difficulties from their peers.

      But the military struck the clause from conscription regulations on July 26, 2010, and since Jan. 1, 2011, mixed-race men have been accepted into the military regardless of their skin color.

      With the number of enlisted men from multicultural families increasing, the military has now implemented guidelines to support them. The military decided in April last year to omit the word "minjok," which refers to the Korean race, from the oath of enlistment for officers and soldiers, and replace it with "the citizen." Many people had earlier pointed out that "minjok" implicitly excludes mixed-race men.

      A Defense Ministry official said children from multicultural families tend to feel they are discriminated against when they grow up because their Korean language skills, appearance and academic background. "The military needs to handle them carefully because they're more likely to feel isolated in barracks, where stricter discipline is enforced," he added.

      A retired field commander said, "Whenever mixed-race enlisted men were deployed, I ordered senior officers to pay special attention to them."

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