More than 200 low-ranking commissioned and non-commissioned officers have committed suicide since 2000, a local civic group said Tuesday, calling for immediate measures to alleviate mental and physical stress in the military.
Citing a recent Defense Ministry report, the Center for Military Human Rights said that the number of officers who took their own lives between 2000 and 2011 was 111 in the Army, 68 in the Navy and 29 in the Air Force.
The report also showed that more than 1,400 low-ranking officers in the Army and Air Force deserted their units over the last 12 years.
Critics say the military has failed to pay sufficient attention to the well-being of officers ― primarily ranks of staff sergeant, sergeant first class, second lieutenant, first lieutenant and captain ― while focusing primarily on the welfare of the enlisted troops.
“The officers are under stress as young enlisted soldiers under their supervision are reluctant to do what they tell them to do, as in some cases, they have less military experience than the drafted troops. They are also under pressure from higher-ranking officers,” CMHR chief Lim Tae-hoon told The Korea Herald.
“Some of their seniors are said to have meticulously carried out inspections of their barracks, even into very private places, which is quite a practice that is going backwards in time.”
Lim stressed that there should be a tailored job training program and a counseling system to help the officers adapt to military life.
“The authorities must strengthen their counseling programs regarding their jobs. It is very crucial, particularly considering that they are under much stress with all the weapons and security jobs they have to deal with,” he said.
“There are currently around 100 counseling experts for the 650,000-strong military. That is too small. The military can probably sign agreements with local universities with many counseling staff to allow soldiers to get some help.”
A Defense Ministry official said that the ministry has been striving to prevent suicide in the military through different educational and counseling programs.
“There are a variety of reasons for suicide including personal debts, shaky relationships with their lovers and failure to adapt to military life,” he said, declining to be named.
“To prevent suicide, we carried out a personality test on the officers, which had been conducted only on enlisted soldiers on a trial basis from last year. Since July this year, we have conducted the test for the officers in all armed services.”