Soldiers under the 8th army corps in North
Pyongan Province are being charged with filling military supplies quotas and heading to their hometowns to do so.
“Winter is fast approaching, so a commanding
officer and three soldiers from each battalion are heading to their hometowns
for ‘business trips,’” a source in North Hamgyung Province reported to Daily NK
on October 27th. Not only are the soldiers issued special travel documents for
the trip, the commanding officer presides over the sojourn to ensure that none
of the troops go absent without leave.
“Each unit is required to come up with 200 large power saws to cut logs, 200 shovels, 100 pickaxes, and
100kg worth of nails,” he explained. “The exact date the soldiers are scheduled
to return with the procured materials has not been determined, but it’s
expected to be around the beginning of November.
According to the source, one large chain
saw goes for 150,000 KPW [approximately 18.5 USD] at the market, an exorbitant amount considering how much equipment must be purchased to fulfill the quota.
Sending out each unit to obtain these military supplies is indicative of how little of even the most basic equipment is available to many of the units. These tools are so important for the for the troops’ required construction efforts
and state projects that they are referred to as equipment “for the second battle,” according to the source.
Beset by grave economic difficulties, the
state is generally unable to provide the army with the proper equipment
and materials required to construct lodging, perform training, and perform basic repairs, placing the burden on the units to procure the materials themselves.
Those soldiers sent on these “business
trips” are greeted by parents who haven’t seen them in several years, but if
they are unable to help fill the quotas their sons bring along, that happiness
quickly dissipates and is replaced by worry and concern.
Some residents have said, “It’s such a rare
occurrence for these boys to be released for any period of time so parents want
to help them fill their quota, but they often wonder, ‘Why did they have to
come at this time, when we have neither the time nor the means to help them
Each group stays with the soldier whose
family appears the most affluent. Because of this, the families involved suffer
from the additional burden of trying to curry favor with the commanding officers that
hold so much power over their sons.
A defector with extensive experience
serving in the army while in North Korea told the Daily NK, “Right now is the
busiest time for soldiers because they are preparing for winter. They need to
find enough fire wood for each unit, the officers’ families, and make enough kimchi to last through the winter.”
“Having a child in the army is something
that all parents go through at least once,” he went on. “When your child comes
home the effects last awhile, so it’s only natural the parents would want to go
so far as to borrow money to help their kids out.”
According to defectors in the South, during the widespread famine of the late 1990s, food supplies and oil necessary for
training ceased to come to the units, leaving the soldiers to obtain them on their own; concerned of
the punishments from failure to fulfill their quotas, many began deserting the army.