by Minh Thi
Cities and provinces nationwide are bustling due to the first annual army enrolment stage, which started on Monday and finishes tomorrow.
Meanwhile, TV stations and newspapers are also packed with pictures of eager young males approaching a turning point in their lives as they embark on military service.
As usual, the young men are from all sections of society, with the exception of high school graduates who have gained a place at higher education institutions.
But things will change this March, when a new Government regulation about military service conscription takes effect.
Circular No 13, jointly issued by the Ministry of Education and Training and Ministry of National Defence, requests all male citizens to delay their education to serve the army, even if they have received an acceptance letter from a higher education institution but have not actually started their courses. They will undergo military service for at least 18 months instead, regardless of ethnic origins, professions or areas of residency, according to the law on military service.
The regulation may change the current situation, as most of my male acquaintances have never entered the army.
After graduating from high school, my friends usually tried to either find a job, or seek a place at university. Some who failed would present a fake certificate of poor health or fake acceptance letter from colleges. They would continue to do so until they reached 25-years-old, the limit for military conscription.
Some of my friends were even surprised when I asked them about military service. "Why should I go to the army when I go to college and have a job?" they responded, expressing discomfort about harsh military life.
As a woman exempt from military service, I feel it is unfair to judge anyone for this, so I asked for the reasons people decide against military service to understand why they are hesitant.
Dang Nam Khanh, a 23-year-old office worker in Da Nang City said he didn't intend to do military service because he thought it was not an attractive option for intellectuals.
"Most people doing the service are those who fail to enter college or are unemployed, so the military environment feels like a place for losers."
While confirming that military service is not a piece of cake, Nguyen Anh Tuan, who currently works for IBM in Ha Noi and served in the army from 2007-09, said the military environment was not as scary as one might think.
"If you learn to adapt, you might even find the environment interesting," said Tuan, adding that joining the army offered him an experience completely different from those he ever had before.
Tuan said he learned a lot: becoming more independent and patient, learning military tactics, becoming physically stronger and developing better resistance to all conditions.
Unlike many other soldiers who entered the army after failing the university entrance exam, Tuan decided to serve the army after his graduation from a university.
He said joining the army was simply a response to the military's order at the time, which he thought of as a duty he could not evade or refuse.
"I was worried at first, but then I thought, if so many people had done it, I would have no trouble following them."
That said, Tuan still expressed his understanding towards hesitant young men.
"Young people who are enjoying their carefree lives would easily find it not appealing to join the army, where they have to work hard and live according to military discipline."
Therefore, to arouse young people's interest in military service, Tuan said the military environment should be portrayed in a brighter light: as a challenging yet eye-opening experience.
Khanh in Da Nang agreed, saying that he would not mind entering the army if the training programme was improved.
"Things must be changed, from the old, unattractive uniform and outdated technologies to the quality of the staff."
Personally, I agree that military service should be made compulsory for all to ensure fairness. This is something we should learn from South Korea, where even top-earning celebrities are forced to serve the army with absolutely no exceptions.
As many are still hesitant towards the idea of doing military service, perhaps the army might do something to appeal to the youth or even create a friendlier image.
Since public opinion cannot be changed overnight, perhaps military conscription should be made more flexible: allowing people to choose their own time to join the army: before or after college, as long as they are within the suitable age range of 18-25. — VNS