BUCHEON, South Korea (Reuters) - Over a thousand South Korean civilians braved sub-zero temperatures around the country to take part in boot camps run by a special commando unit, hoping to get into shape and improve their self-discipline.
The boot camps, which run for three days and have been held since 2003, are aimed at "educating" civilians about national security in a country that shares a heavily-armed border with North Korea, which in November shelled a South Korean island near their shared sea border, killing several civilians.
About 250 people, including some high school students, took part in the boot camp at Bucheon, just west of Seoul, one of six run around the country.
Instead of staying warm at home during their winter break, participants wearing camouflage dragged parachutes, underwent training in a tear-gas filled hut and took part in "flying fox" exercises from a wooden tower.
The cold was unforgiving, with temperatures hitting -10 C (14.00F) in Seoul and surrounding areas.
"It was very difficult from the beginning, my muscles ached and it hurt a lot," said 18-year-old Kim Myung-jin.
"But I trusted my trainers under the intense situations and sympathized with much of the soldiers' hard work."
South Korea has a mandatory conscription policy for men, who have to complete 24 months of military service between graduating from high school and turning 30.
The boot camps have been running since 2003 and 18,000 people have taken part. The oldest was a 49-year-old housewife, army officials said.
"The special commando's camp, which is an educational ground for national security for civilians, is a good motivation to feel the importance of the country," said Lieutenant Colonel Kim Jong-tak.
"After the training, we expect them to live life with hope and challenge themselves, rather than feeling abandoned and frustrated, while thinking about the camp slogan: 'Make the impossible possible.'"
Some participants said the training had in fact changed their outlook on life.
"Once I get out of here, I will be good to my mother. I will be good to my mother and father and willingly help them," said 15-year-old Woo Seung-yeon.
Editing by Elaine Lies