Military training causes disruptions during S. Korea’s college entrance exams
November 23, 2008
SEOUL — Military training caused disruptions for about 200 high school students in a county northeast of Seoul during South Korea’s college entrance exams earlier this month, according to local police and education officials.
Normally, military officials halt all training and drills during the once-in-a-lifetime test, which determines college eligibility, vocation and potential income for students throughout the country.
The test is so important that businesses shorten the workday to lessen traffic noise, and incoming commercial airplanes are ordered to circle above airports during two crucial listening portions of the daylong test, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month.
But this year, early morning training on Nov. 13 in Cheorwon County sent local police — who typically guard the local high school during the test — scrambling to figure out who was making the noise.
This week, a spokesman for the South Korean Army confirmed that its troops were firing MG-50 machine guns at a range about five miles from the school. Once they were alerted to their interference with the exam, they stopped their firing, the spokesman said.
But other firing in the area continued until about 11 a.m., he said, claiming it involved troops from the U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry Division.
However, it’s unclear whether any U.S. military units were involved in creating the noise. A division spokesman said this week that he knew of no U.S. soldiers in the area conducting any training.
"As far as I know, no one was training at the time, and we have received no noise complaints," Maj. Vince Mitchell said Thursday.
Cheorwon school officials have received only one official complaint, from a student through the education office’s Web site. But police said they have heard grumbling from many people.
About 590,000 students took the test nationwide. Before the exam, the country’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology asked the South Korean and U.S. militaries to avoid drills or exercises during two listening times — 8:40 a.m. to 8:53 a.m. and 1:10 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
The South Korean Army remained quiet during those two times, but didn’t realize their training after 8:53 a.m. was so close to a high school, the spokesman said.
U.S. Forces Korea spokesman Dave Palmer said this week that commanders were reminded of the Nov. 13 test and the request for quiet time during the two specified periods. He, too, said no official complaints have been received.
In past years, USFK issued public statements reiterating its intent to respect the testing day. In 2004, the command halted all military flights, except those essential to missions or emergencies, and it closed all shooting ranges from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.