By Hyonhee Shin and Hyeyeon Kim
SEOUL (Reuters) -South Korea’s military got a new recruit on Tuesday: Jin, the oldest member of K-pop phenomenon BTS, began 18 months of mandatory national service, complete with newly shaven head.
Dozens of fans braved freezing, snowy weather to speed him on his way at his bootcamp in the eastern county of Yeoncheon, where frontline troops are deployed on guard against North Korea.
“I wish it was a warm day,” Lee Jin, 24, told Reuters outside the camp, where about 300 military, police and fire officials maintained tight security. “I hope he will be treated well without discrimination.”
BTS announced plans in October to sign up for mandatory military service, starting with Jin, who turned 30 on Dec. 4, after having postponed his service for the maximum time allowed.
“He is so skinny,” said Mandy Lee, a 30-year-old fan from Hong Kong. “I want him to eat more and stay healthy and safe.”
The band will reunite in 2025 after pursuing individual projects.
After five weeks’ training at the camp, about 45 km (28 miles) from the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas, Jin will be deployed to a unit that has not yet been specified.
“Now it’s time for a curtain call,” Jin wrote on BTS fan platform Weverse early on Tuesday before entering the camp in a car. His shaved head was “cuter” than he imagined, he joked when he posted a photograph of it the previous day.
BTS’ management, Big Hit Music, said there would be no official event and asked fans to avoid travelling to the boot camp, citing safety concerns.
South Korea requires military service of about two years from all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 28, but it revised the law in 2019 to let globally recognised K-pop stars delay signing up until 30.
Some lawmakers have pushed for a shorter term, granted to medal winners at the Olympics and Asian Games, as well as some classical musicians, but a bill is still pending.
On Tuesday, Yonhap news agency said another BTS member, Suga, has been judged unfit for active duty and would do community service instead.
Big Hit declined to confirm the report on privacy grounds, but said all band members would fulfil their duties.
Many artists have received the “entertainment soldier” designation to allow them to keep a hand in by performing for troops or appearing in propaganda.
South Korea’s defence minister has said BTS would be able to perform overseas while in the military.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Hyeyeon Kim; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Clarence Fernandez)