N. Korean enlistees face tougher road to becoming soldiers

New military recruits face tougher physical examinations and restrictions than before due to fears over the coronavirus

Faced with concerns over the novel coronavirus, North Korea’s military has toughened the hurdles new recruits need to pass to become soldiers and have placed more restrictions on their movement, Daily NK sources in Jagang Province reported on Feb. 26.

Daily NK sources reported that the military agency that manages low-ranking officers has implemented a “new way” to deal with recruitment efforts to Military Mobilization Departments located in each province along with directly-governed cities (Pyongyang) and special cities (such as Nampo). These orders are reportedly in response to the threat posed by COVID-19.


The orders reportedly included instructions to strengthen physical examinations of enlistees that go beyond those required in past years. The examinations focused on the lungs of the recruits, and sources said that anyone who was found to be suffering from even the slightest issue unconditionally failed their examination.

military mobilization department
The Jagang Province Military Mobilization Department office and training camp in Kanggye. / Image: Google Maps

Recruits who pass their physical examinations are sent to Military Mobilization Department-run training camps. The recruits remain at the training camps, each of which can accommodate around 500 people, until they are assigned to their units.

The military’s human resources agency reportedly ordered that new recruits are now to be transferred to their first base deployment on Mar. 17 instead of early April.

“This is aimed at shortening the period in which new recruits spend in normal society [and stay vulnerable to COVID-19] before getting their assignments,” one source told Daily NK.


While officers from local military mobilization offices took charge of transporting new recruits to their military bases, this year the enlistees will be transported by officers from their assigned military posts.

New recruits will also be prohibited from leaving Military Mobilization Department-run training camps. The camps will shut their front entrances and use night-time patrols to manage the flow of family members and others in and out of the camps, sources said.

“There’s no sign of the usual food and memorabilia sellers who have traditionally come to sell their wares around the camps,” one source said. “I hear that the authorities are preparing trains for transporting the new recruits [to the camps], which means that the enlistees will be heading to the camps as normal.”


The new restrictions, however, have not led to a dip in the number of recruits heading to local hospitals for physical examinations.

“New recruits have streamed into a local hospital since mid-January, just like last year,” a Jagang Province-based source told Daily NK. “[Due to the influx of candidates], the hospital conducted outpatient services in the mornings and focused on physical examinations of new enlistees in the afternoons from Feb. 3 to Feb. 10.”

North Korea has completely prohibited the movement of anyone across provincial borders over fears of a COVID-19 outbreak, except for a select few who have received permission to do so. New recruits are reportedly heading to local hospitals in their own provinces to avoid the restrictions on travel.

◆The military recruitment process in North Korea = North Korean high schools generally submit recommendations for military-bound students to municipal and county-level Military Mobilization Department offices in mid-January. The first-round of physical examinations are conducted in early February at municipal or county hospitals and the recruits are informed individually about the results in mid-February. From February 19 to March 1, the Military Mobilization Department offices manage another comprehensive physical examination at larger provincial “people’s hospitals” along with one-on-one interviews with recruits. 

The military makes a decision on the final selection of recruits by Mar. 5. The recruits are then provided supplies they need for their training (supplies differ depending on the military branch the recruits are assigned to). The recruits are assigned “teams” made up of other recruits deployed to the same military posts. All recruits live and train together in a provincial Military Mobilization Department camp until they head to their assigned posts. 

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