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To sing, dance and serve South Korea as a soldier

Written by: Staff
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SEOUL, Apr 26 (Reuters) South Korean singer Yoon Gye-sang faced what might be called his Elvis Presley moment.

Although not nearly the earth shaker Presley was when he was drafted in the 1950s, Yoon was a member of one of the country's top boy bands and at the height of his popularity when the draft board came calling.

Like Elvis, Yoon answered the call, got a haircut and put on an army uniform.

Compulsory military service is a fact of life in South Korea, which is technically still at war with North Korea, but two years in the army can kill the career of a young celebrity.

South Korean stars face the choice of seeing their celebrity status fade into obscurity or becoming a pariah by trying to dodge the draft and not serving the country.

The stakes have only grown higher in recent years as the local entertainment industry has boomed and South Korea's stars enjoy previously unheard-of success in other parts of Asia.

Almost all South Korean males are required to serve.

Time in the armed forces can be harsh. One in four soldiers say they are verbally abused or beaten by superiors, according to a recent survey by a government-sponsored military think tank.

Military service is a national obsession. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of expectant mothers leave the country each year to give birth overseas so that their children can have dual citizenship and perhaps escape time in the army.

ENTERTAINMENT SOLDIERS Yoon, a member of the boy band g.o.d., went through basic training and served near the Demilitarised Zone where most of the North's 1.2 million-man army is stationed.

He is now what the military dubs an ''entertainment soldier'', dispatched to a new group within the armed forces that provides programming for TV and radio broadcasts. It also helps keep celebrities in the public eye while serving.

''I had to start at the very bottom,'' Yoon said. ''I work hard to lift the morale of the soldiers.'' As a soldier, he earns 63 dollars a month, a pittance compared with what he received as being a part of g.o.d.

Entertainment soldiers serve at the Korean Forces Network, a broadcaster that took to the air in December. It has 13 former celebrities turned soldiers who host radio programmes or work as TV news anchors. Yoon hosts a music show that plays the video clips most requested by the troops.

MORE REUTERS KD KP0936

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