When DAY6‘s Young K enlisted into the KATUSA branch of the Republic Of Korea (ROK) Army, he became the first K-Pop idol to be accepted into the program. A.C.E‘s Byeongkwan became the second when he enlisted in April 2022. Here’s what it takes to get into this highly sought-after, low-acceptance branch.
KATUSA, which stands for Korean Augmentation To the United States Army, started in 1950 following the beginning of the Korean war. Its purpose was support the US forces during the war, and since the 1953 armistice, it functions to the benefit of both the US Army and ROK Army.
KATUSA members serve as support to the US Army forces as well as translators between Americans and the Korean public. Beyond the military, however, many KATUSA and US Army soldiers have shared that the cultural exchange and learning opportunities make the experience unique.
Those who wish to join are required to take and pass one of eight standardized English tests. Two of the most common tests are TOEFL, with a passing score of 83, and TOEIC, with a passing score of 780. For Young K, he received a TOEFL score of 116 and a TOEIC score of 970. For reference, the highest score possible for TOEFL is 120, and the highest for TOEIC is 990.
But even once they receive their passing score, their acceptance is not guaranteed; KATUSA relies on a lottery system to choose from the pool of qualified volunteers. According to The Korea Times, out of 16,760 applicants in 2020, only 1,600 were accepted. Their acceptance rate will continue to decline in future years as more US Army forces move out of South Korea.
However, despite the highly competitive process to get into KATUSA, it remains “the most enviable” post for Koreans entering the military. This is due to the comparatively better treatment soldiers can receive through working with US Army units.
The popularity of joining KATUSA derives from the fact that they can receive better treatment, including meals, compared to regular South Korean military units. These perks include the freedom to leave military posts on weekdays with relative ease, and a comparably less hierarchical relationship with supervisors.
— Bak Se Hwan, The Korea Herald
Young K was the first idol to be accepted into the highly desired KATUSA branch thanks to both his impressive fluency in English and just a touch of good luck. He completed his military service in April 2023, while Byeongkwan will complete his service this month!