Over the past five years, military personnel accrued fines of NT$400 million (US$14.32 million) for prematurely ending their service, with the figure rising every year, National Audit Office data showed.
Among them, former students at public-funded military academies and former military officers who did not serve the required minimum period owe the government more than NT$280 million, while former volunteer recruits owe more than N$105 million.
The Ministry of National Defense has said that it is streamlining the armed forces and retaining only the most capable personnel, and that it is redoubling its efforts to collect the fines.
Nevertheless, the unpaid amounts show that many volunteer recruits and officers find it difficult to adapt to the military way of life, while others have been forced to leave due to personal issues such as taking drugs or drunk driving.
All of this has led to a serious depletion of military personnel.
The ministry’s primary task should be to help recruits adapt to life in the military, instead of collecting fines.
When I first reported to my unit after graduating from a military academy, the battalion commander and chief counselor made it clear that they were not impressed by my academic pedigree, saying that academy graduates were only capable of committing suicide.
They were referring to a case not long before in which a military academy student tried to harm himself before reporting for training.
Their words, now seared into my memory, made me want to quit on the first day of my military career. At the time, I did not receive any encouragement from my supervisors, but instead faced criticism and humiliation.
This negativity lasted for almost two months, with each day feeling like a year, and I kept thinking about leaving.
Thankfully, a supervisor transferred me Guguan (谷關) area in Taichung for three months of training and I was dispatched to a different unit after I passed with flying colors.
At that unit, I met an encouraging senior officer who taught me the “survival skills” I would need for the military.
Thereafter, my career was much easier and I was promoted to Army Headquarters.
Since I left the military, I have been a university instructor.
Many officers leave the military before finishing the minimum term because of the lure of money. Their military life is relatively simple, with a fixed income, and they are attracted to the big, wide world outside of the forces — an antidote to the mundane nature of training and the limitations on their freedom.
Given this, it does not take much to convince them to leave, and some even act up to get themselves thrown out.
The ministry should reinforce its counseling mechanism, which does not need to be carried out solely by counselors. Through one-on-one apprenticeship-style counseling, the military could help those who want to leave to reconsider their options and give them room to adapt to life in the military.
With more encouragement and less criticism, perhaps Taiwan will retain its military talent, which would benefit the military and the nation.
Chen Hung-hui is a university military instructor.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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