SEOUL, South Korea — Dressed in borrowed camouflage fatigues, they fumbled with their ammunition belts and K2 assault rifles. Some had white hair and a slow, shuffling gait; their average age was 63, the oldest 75.
It was the most unconventional batch of trainees that the 52nd Infantry Division's Seocho Reserve Forces Training Center had ever seen, and Lt. Col. Hwang Hyeon-seok received them with a strained smile, desperately hoping that none of them would get hurt.
“I couldn't sleep at all last night,” Hwang told one of them with a nervous laugh. “Your enthusiasm worries me.”
His concern was met with good-natured chuckles, but no reassurances.
Excluding the two women in the group, most of these retirees or near-retirees had undergone South Korea's compulsory military service in their youth. But the decades of rust were showing.
“I don't remember the rifles being so heavy,” said 62-year-old Kang Shin-kwang.
As a young conscript four decades ago, Kang was a machine gunner stationed near the border with North Korea. But today, as the sticker pasted to his right breast indicates, he serves in the Senior Army.
Founded last summer by a group of civilians with no affiliation with the military, the Senior Army — which currently has around 500 members — is part senior citizens' social club and part volunteer organization.
But it also has more profound ambitions as a solution to the effects of South Korea's dismal…