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[Opinion] Korean Soldiers Are Underpaid

Posted June. 25, 2005 06:06,   


Those who served in the military as the rank and file might remember rushing to the post exchange (PX) on payday to get some bread or ice cream and pay back debts. The PX was packed with so many soldiers on payday that you had to wait in line. In a few days, you would have spent all your money and would have to borrow some from here and there or end up leaving your name on the PX credit list again.

Korean soldiers are paid too little, although their pay has risen. Sergeants, corporals, privates first class, and privates second class are paid 44,200 won, 39,900 won, 36,100 won, and 33,300 won a month, respectively. It is no joke that what you earn in a month with a part-time job after you are discharged from the military is more than the entire salary you earned in the two years of your military service. In contrast, Germany and Taiwan pay their soldiers 30 percent of what similarly-aged civilians earn in their respective countries, even though their military service is obligatory just like in Korea.

In a survey conducted by the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis, 78 percent of soldiers said they considered their pay to be too low. Over half the respondents said that they received allowances from home

Despite the low pay, many soldiers manage to save money and spend it in a meaningful way. Corporals Jo Jeong-woong and Lee Tae-ryeon, both killed in the recent shooting spree, were exemplary spenders. Corporal Jo saved enough of his pay to buy his older sister a digital camera during one of his furloughs, and Corporal Lee bought his parents new rings. Their stories are touching everyone’s heart.

Lawmakers are competing to try and raise soldier pay. The Uri Party announced its plan to raise soldier pay to 80,000 won by 2007, while the Grand National Party said soldier pay could be raised to as much as 100,000 won.

Both parties say the recent shooting spree should be used as a turning point in improving the service environment for the rank and file soldiers. Their intentions are commendable. Young men who devote their youthful years to the nation deserve as much. Budgetary strains should no longer be an excuse. Raising soldier pay would be no problem if some of the budget is saved from being wasted on presidential committees and inefficient government organizations. The public will not hold back from paying taxes for our soldiers.

Song Young-eon, Editorial Writer, youngeon@donga.com