The army on Monday introduced new initiatives at its military facilities that allow soldiers to use smartphones, browse the Internet in their free time and enjoy improved accommodation, in a bid to boost lower-than-expected enlistment figures.
During a media tour at a base in Pingtung County, the army showed off new soldiers’ quarters, which include air conditioning and desks for individual soldiers. In the past, soldiers had only beds and lockers.
The 333rd Brigade at the base in Pingtung is among 35 military units that have been chosen by the army to improve soldiers’ quality of life through the inclusion of certain creature comforts.
Staff Sergeant Lu Shu-hao (呂書豪) said the barracks had improved drastically on the quarters he had lived in previously.
“It’s like 500 times cooler than before,” he said.
Lu belongs to an experimental company made up entirely of enlisted soldiers in the army’s 333rd Brigade.
Meeting reporters on a base tour, Lu cited improvements in comfort, atmosphere and hygiene, which he said make the barracks “no longer look like a cheap hotel.”
To increase the appeal of being part of an all-volunteer force, a goal set for 2017, the military has taken steps to improve the living conditions of service members, in addition to paying higher salaries.
Taking shower facilities as an example, Lu said soldiers in his company can now use separate cubicles instead of the open bath commonly seen in army barracks. To be able to relax is very important after a day of drills and exercising, he added.
Other improvements include individual bunks, desks and closets, and perhaps more important for modern young people: The right to use smartphones.
In order to join the army, Lu gave up his US citizenship, saying it was the most important and the best decision he has made in his life so far.
Private Cheng Kai-yang also gave a thumbs-up for the improvements at the base, particularly new initiatives that include allowing military personnel to live off-base and eat outside on work days.
Being able to use smartphones at the base also allows them to stay connected with the rest of the world, Cheng said.
“I believe this will attract more young people to enlist,” he added.
According to the army, 80 percent of the military personnel at the selected 35 units have expressed satisfaction with the improved daily facilities and new measures.
The army began implementing the initiatives in October last year and over the past three months, 10 percent of the young men who are required to undergo four months of military training as part of the military’s plan to shift to an all-volunteer force agreed to enlist.
The army said it is planning to implement the new initiatives at more of its military units. In the 35 units, those who have volunteered to sign up for longer military service increased from 45.3 percent to 56.1 percent, according to the military.
The transition to an all-volunteer army was originally planned for next year, but the army pushed the date back due to lower-than-expected recruitment figures.