(Reuters) – Cool under fire took on new meaning for more than 200 South Korean soldiers this week as they stripped off their shirts, flung snow on each other and walked through an ice-encrusted stream — all part of drills to hone endurance.
North and South Korea have yet to sign a peace treaty after the 1950-1953 Korean War, and tension remains high along the Demilitarized zone (DMZ) that splits the peninsula — particularly after the North’s young new leader, Kim Jong-un, assumed power last month.
Pushups in the snow were also part of the annual winter drill by special forces soldiers, which took place in Pyeongchang, about 180 km (113 miles) east of Seoul and the venue for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“Our members are holding this drill to be able to survive in the enemy’s camp, overcome freezing cold weather — 20 degrees below zero in the mountain area — without any help from our army,” said Commander Choi Ik-bong of the special forces.
“They train as if it is a real battle and they will fight in a battle as if it’s a kind of training.”
The United States has about 30,000 troops in South Korea to support the country’s 650,000-strong armed forces. But North Korea has some 1.2 million troops, most stationed along the border.
“The creed for our special forces is that we can do whatever cannot be done (by others), and a man dies just once, not twice, in this life,” said 24-year-old Kim Sung-hoon.
“As a man, I am proud to sacrifice myself for my country, so this sort of difficulty is nothing to me.”
Among the soldiers were ten women, who took part wearing short-sleeved shirts.
“I put the fact that I am a special forces member before the fact that I am a woman, so I have only been thinking about accomplishing my mission flawlessly,” said 24-year-old Kim Yea-ji.