Controversies surrounding the poor quality of military rations are shocking the nation with a series of reports breaking out on the despicable quality of meals supposed to have been provided for the servicemen who returned from holidays during their Covid 19-quarantine period. The military authorities are floundering – belatedly, with Defense Minister Seo Wook visiting the dining facilities and the Defense Ministry embarking on on-the-ground inspections. It is unthinkable that this type of controversies is being reported in the ROK military in the year of 2021. The first line of commanders must be held accountable for their failure of providing the treatment to our soldiers that they rightly deserve during this unprecedented emergency of COVID-19.
The pictures that the soldiers took in person showed that in many cases, the basic rule on “a portion with at least four side-dishes” was often not met. In one of those pictures was a scoop of white rice with a scanty trace of side-dish and an empty bowl meant for soup. Another report showed a Styrofoam box with some rice, a small hint of herbs, and two pieces of daikon kimchi. On social media, a sort of competition has been ignited, with the soldiers adding comments on “which is the worst dining facility in South Korean military.” In other words, the issue is an endemic that is not confined to some front-line units, but the military authorities were naïve enough to dismiss it as triviality.
Every year, South Korea spends 52 trillion won on national defense, and the controversies about the quality of daily meals that is directly pegged to the morale of our troops are little more than a disgrace for the country. Reportedly, a daily food expense per Korean solider is 8,790 won, each meal being worth only about 2,930 won. Even after labor costs, the amount is even lower than that of middle of high school student. The latest controversy should serve as an opportunity to make a thorough scrutiny into the rationality of our military food expenses. Monitoring the efficiency of management for both quality and quantity of military rations within the budget should be another task that needs to be tackled urgently.
Lately, the ruling Democratic Party of Korea is desperate to win the votes from men in their 20s. With the rumors about the reinstatement of benefits for those who have finished military duties resurfacing, Rep. Kim Byeong-ki said he will propose a law treating them as a person of national merit. Promising half-baked ambitions with a pending party consensus is the last thing that the lawmakers should be doing right now; they must start by checking if our soldiers are being fed well enough to fight as they should.