ROK Marine Corps reaches new heights with first female helicopter pilot

ROK Marine Corps reaches new heights with first female helicopter pilot

Felix Kim

Increasing gender diversity in the Republic of Korea Armed Forces achieved another milestone with the recent assignment of the Marine Corps’ first female helicopter pilot.

Lt. Cho Sang-ah, pictured, officially became a pilot with the Marines’ 1st Division 1st Battalion after nine months of training, South Korea’s government-affiliated news agency, Yonhap, reported November 1, 2020. Commissioned in 2017, Cho participated in helicopter landing exercises in her previous assignment as an armament ammunition register and applied to be a flight officer in 2020. Next up for Cho, 27, is training to fly utility helicopters.

Cho adds to the growing number of women joining and advancing through South Korea’s military ranks. This reflects Seoul’s efforts to increase gender diversity within the military as well as societal trends, Hong Doo-Seung, a sociology professor at Seoul National University, told FORUM.

Hong said dramatic progress has been made since his essay “Women in the South Korean Military” was published in 2002.

“Now, women are assigned to most services and corps,” he said. These include roles such as Army paratrooper, Navy captain and Air Force fighter pilot.

Also in 2020, Maj. Gen. Kang Sun-young became the first female commanding general of the Army’s Aviation Operations Command, Hong said. “She is also the first woman major general in Korean history.”

The push toward greater gender diversity began in 1989 when the Women’s Army Corps was dissolved and integrated into the Army, Hong said. The national military academies soon began accepting women, and each now has female cadets.

“The Armed Forces are undergoing the process of increasing the proportion of women,” he said. “By 2022, the percentage of women in the Armed Forces will increase to 8.8% from 7.4% today, and further, thereafter.”

The South Korea Ministry of National Defense has taken measures to ensure that women are not restricted from roles based on gender and to prevent gender-related violence in military units, Yonhap reported.

Hong said similar gender diversity gains can be seen in many areas of South Korean society.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivered on his promise that women would comprise at least 30% of his cabinet, according to the nonprofit Human Rights Watch. Women made up 58% of South Korea’s overall workforce in 2016, up from 46% in 1980, the International Monetary Fund reported.

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.