YEONCHEON: Jin, the star of South Korean band BTS, started his mandatory military duty on Tuesday, becoming the group’s first member to enlist since a hiatus announcement this year left fans heartbroken over the K-pop juggernaut’s uncertain future.

The seven-member band is widely considered the country’s biggest-ever cultural phenomenon, selling out stadiums around the world and dominating the charts while raking in billions and building a global legion of fans known as ARMYs.

But all able-bodied men in South Korea must serve at least 18 months in the military and, while there was a years-long debate about whether BTS deserved an exemption, they confirmed in October that all members would enlist.

Jin, whose full name is Kim Seok-jin, reported to a frontline boot camp in Yeoncheon on Tuesday to begin his five-week training, kickstarting 18 months of military service.

He was riding one of the black vans that arrived in a row around 20 minutes before a 0500 GMT deadline.

Hundreds of media personnel and BTS fans packed an intersection in front of the boot camp’s main gate, where a sign reads “A cradle for top class combat soldiers”.

“We have mixed feelings today because on one hand, it’s normal that he does this enlistment because it’s an obligation anyway for Korean men,” said Veronique, a 32-year-old fan from Indonesia.

“But on the other hand we cannot see him for a minimum of 18 months ... Happy but also sad, but also proud,” she said.

Fans were stunned in June when BTS revealed they were going on hiatus, citing exhaustion and pressure as well as the desire to pursue solo careers.

Published in Dawn, December 14th, 2022

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