ROK Military’s Obsession with Brass Collecting

An odd product that has appeared on Republic of Korea (ROK) Army K1A and K2 rifles in recent years is this brass catcher. Outside of a few dedicated reloaders in the United States, brass catchers are very seldom used at all anywhere else in the world. However in the ROK army, spent brass has a much higher importance than in most other militaries. Soldiers are required to turn in every piece of brass that they fired during a training  regime or else face severe consequences. The reasoning behind this is the army’s strict control over ammunition consumption and reloading ammunition. Behind that regulation has to do with serious problems the ROK Army has with hazing, suicide rates, and soldiers making off with rounds for criminal activities. Thus, ROK soldiers have to turn in every single casing fired while on a live fire range, confirming it by also counting every single one. Many of us in the Military or LE are used to long lines of “Police Call”, where we would line up after a training event, sweeping the grounds for brass, collecting it and turning it back in. However the difference was that we didn’t count every single case when we turned them, it was enough to make the range reasonably cleaner than when we arrived at it. 

From my perspective, I am curious as to how much this obsession with brass collecting impacts actual training. I understand that there is a real need to safeguard ammunition from criminal or suicidal usage, but at what cost to the soldiers? An army needs men who can fight well, not men that are professional brass pickers. As mentioned in the Business Insider article linked above, the ROK Marine platoon that the author was partnered with stayed at the range several entire hours extra due to three spent rounds that hadn’t been picked up yet. I’ve personally spent a colossal waste of time picking up trash and brass at ranges in the Marines, but mostly this had to do with Staff NCOs wanting to teach us a lesson because the platoon was misbehaving or not following their guide lines.

With the actual brass catcher mounted on a rifle, there is no way that an individual ROK soldier or Marine can get through more than 100 rounds of a course of fire without the brass catcher weighing down enough on the rifle to affect accuracy. In addition, I would be very curious to see if soldiers are so conditioned to keeping track of brass that they are essentially stunted to the point of not returning fire in an actual combat situation, because they don’t want to get punished for losing a piece of brass.

The article above mentions hazing being a concern of suicides and revenge killings, and the cartoon description I’ve attached below deals with a fair bit of hazing for entertainment value. To illustrate the degree to which hazing exists in the ROK Military, let me share a story. I know of this through a mutual friend of mine that served in the U.S. Army on the DMZ, partnered with a ROK soldier. They were both radio operators and were monitoring North Korean radio transmissions in the 1990s. During one of the days they were on duty, the ROK soldier made a very simple and small error in his transmission, maybe saying the time wrong, or calling in as the wrong call sign, but quickly correcting himself. Without hesitation, the ROK soldier’s section leader came storming in from the room next door, whipped the ROK radio operator out of his chair, and proceeded to break his nose in front of my mutual American friend. Now, I can say that similar events did happen while I was in the Marines, but the transgressions were much larger, and the physical assault wasn’t as near as injuring or public in the least (We call it “tree-lining”). The point of this story is to give our reader an idea of the kind of hazing that exists in the ROK Army, as compared to what you might think of hazing in the U.S. Military, it is almost on a whole different level.

To highlight this phenomena, I’ve shared an episode from a cartoon series entitled 연예인지옥 (Story of the Korean Army) that was popular in South Korea around a decade ago. Jump to the 6:20 mark for the rest of the post to make sense.

The cartoon series is about this kid that gets drafted into the army and is constantly beaten up by his squad-mates because he keeps getting everyone in trouble for his actions. In this episode the platoon goes to the range, and is short one brass case from being able to turn in their total ammunition expenditure at the end of the training session. In the screen grab below, notice the Kevlar being used to catch spent cases as they are flung out of the rifle.

Because of this the platoon is punished at the range very severely. Then at night, the main character is seen opening up a book where he has secreted away the spent piece of brass. He takes it out and whispers to himself about how awesome of a future rock star he is going to be, and how he’ll drill a hole through the case, wearing it as a necklace while on stage in front of crazy crowds of admiring fans below him as he sings.

However, his ambitious rant is quickly cut off by a squad-mate who walks in through the door, sees the spent case, and proceeds to wake up the whole platoon to thrash him again. Not only is this just any squad-mate, but his team leader or NCO that is directly in charge of him.

Whether you found the cartoon episode humorous or degrading, the point it illustrates about the highly important task of turning in brass in the ROK Army resonates deeply with many young and middle-aged Korean men watching the show. They would be intimately familiar with this predicament, having been conscripts in the ROK Army themselves.



Miles V

Infantry Marine, based in the Midwest. Specifically interested in small arms history, development, and usage within the Middle East & North Africa, and Central Asia.

If you want to reach out, let me know about an error I’ve made, something I can add to the post, feel free to message me at miles@tfb.tv


Advertisement

  • KestrelBike

    Interesting article Miles, thanks for taking the time to put it all together.

    Personally, do you think the amount of pressure and discipline the ROK military has fostered would be positive or negative if the North ever attacked/invaded? Moot point?

    • RSG

      Their survival depends on the US.

      • KestrelBike

        Totally. My moot point referred to all of the artillery pointed right at Seoul, and the fact that if China was provoked/decided to join in, SK’s in a kimchi-load of trouble.

      • olannd

        Also heard they want to end conscription, after which their wussification will be complete mwahahaha

      • MeaCulpa

        To keep the nuclear option of the table yes; but if conventional warfare is the name of the game I’d think that the south could, and would, do a pretty stellar job as the north are at a 1960’s technological point whereas the south is very technologically advanced.

        • RSG

          Let’s not forget that we’ve been fighting cave dwellers for ten years. The definition of unsophisticated with their 1940’s era guns. The point is, the north, with their numbers, could inflict massive damage on the south in conventional warfare. We’ve done this dance once before.

          • MeaCulpa

            Sure, but the last time north and south faced of the north was the richer part of the country and now the south is way more technologically advanced, all out conventional War would probably become a decisive victory for the south if they don’t counterattack to far north with ground forces (like the last time). The US has choose to go to war against a concept, “terror”, and you can not win that war, the individual goat fu… “farmers” could probably be defeated by the west in months if we ignore the consequences for the civilian population.

          • int19h

            It’s not as simple as that. The North may not be particularly technologically advanced, but it’s advanced enough to manufacture arms, artillery, tanks and planes on an industrial scale – this isn’t Afghanistan. And it has an actual professional military, with trained officers etc – again, maybe their training is outdated, but it sure beats your average Afghan warlord.

            The real problem is that it’s a totalitarian state, and those, if they do things right, can handle a lot of damage before they truly go down. That’s often how they win fight – by basically remaining in it for longer than a (sane) opponent would expect them to, even with multiple extremely painful hits, long enough to wear the enemy down and then counterattack. It’s surprising what you can do when you don’t care all that much about losses, or about what your enemy might do to your civilians (or, for that matter, what you do to them to keep the army supplied).

          • kalmman

            Plus we’eve already seen what a brainwashed military state does to asian soldiery in WWII Japan, it arguably took 2 nukes and budding northern commie russian invasion to get them to surrender. North Korea is significantly more extreme. Not to say it can’t be done, just not with the yahoos in power, not by a long shot.

        • openana

          Clearly the ROK going house to house in North Korea is absurd. Only two armies stupid enough to that, the U.S and China.

  • 48conkli

    if north korea attacked i am sure it would go right out of the window. Probably strictly for training, and maybe its a way to cut cost and keep ammo supply high because of you know the whole millions of troops across the border waiting to attack.

    • Phillip Cooper

      Did you bother to read the article?

  • Harry’s Holsters

    Sounds like they have a culture problem not an ammo problem. As far as effecting training do regular infantry ever fire more than 100 rounds in training at one time without having an opportunity to empty the brass catchers?

    • Hia Ren

      In Singapore, it is common for soldiers to rectify malfunctions during a simulated firefight due to an overstuffed brass catcher, as some of the spent cases might get in the ejection port and clog the action

    • Ranger Rick

      If you think the “missing brass” is rough, then you’ll really get a kick out what happens to a KATUSA who screws up bad enough to get sent back to the ROK Army for “retraining” ! Those College Boys get their attitudes adjusted to a whole different level than the comic book character.

  • TheNotoriousIUD

    Sounds like some of the same cultural issues that resulted in Korean Air having the worst safety record of any major airline up until the early 2000’s.

  • 22winmag

    Yet another creepy yet steadfast “ally” of the USA.

    • SP mclaughlin

      The alternative is Kim Jong Un.
      I’d take brass catchers over Stalinism anyday.

      • Goody

        Why does there have to be an alternative?

        • SP mclaughlin

          north and south

    • Devil_Doc

      ROK are tough, not creepy. I’ve trained with them, and you definitely want them on your side. Our military has become lazy because we have great technology, and we’re used to fire superiority by way of heavy weapons and aircraft. Smaller nations don’t have our military industrial complex, they have to rely on other things.. The ROKs rely on being tough as nails.

      • Aebe

        As a former soilder of ROKA(servce as a FDC of K9 howitzer,normal conscript soilder), i don’t think we are assiduous as much as u think and not much rely on some kind of spiritual power neither. Most conscript soilders are under deep skeptic about their service, and ossified military culture is surge everywhere except a few elite divisions like 20th armored infantry div or 1corps area. And we’re also heavily rely on Technologies such as 2500 of 3rd Gen MBT, IFV, APC,Howitzerand etc.The problem is head of army are heavily obsessed with cold war doctrine. So they just invest most of limited budget to Heavier Forces not to Grunt. And those brass collect obsession is coming from such background.

        • Aebe

          Correcting Mistake,not graduate school, it is college students

          • John

            Thanks for your service, dude.

            Did you ever consider enlisting in the military after your conscription was up? Or joining another country’s military, like the U.S. or France? Maybe it would have been a positive experience somewhere else?

          • Aebe

            Thanks but your american soilders are the one who really need to be appreciated by us, i’m just another skeptic conscripted civilian not a ‘good soilder’. I’m currently Study international politic and i hope to study security study in america graduate school. I have not (and will not)consdier further service. Furthermore in korea, soilder have been treated as a almost nothing. Army hesitate to help cripled veteran. 2 years ago one soldiers and one NCO get lost theie foot by landmine install by a commie(we still called north “commie”), but Army mostly fought with lawyers and media than helping this veterans. Instead giving them prosthetic leg and subsidy, they ask their family to stop further treatment or pay themself for exceed treatment fee thab invite them to opening event for copper statue of lost leg install around borderland.(yeah this is not a joke:http://m.gobalnews.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=16989) . This is not a single happening. After our frigate sunk by commie’s torpedo attack (in 2010), survived veterans are insulted by a navy officer as a”stragglers”or “run away soilder” even before our SOB leftist insult them. In korea soilder is a dog, and treated like dog, and unfortuneately many soilders act like dog. Week to the strong, Strong to the week.I know american army or european counterpart have totally different situations and they treated well. But after all,with this experience i don’t want be a soldier again.

          • Aebe

            Correcting mistake again not week, weak. lol i hate my flawed english.

          • Tassiebush

            Don’t worry. Your English is better than our Korean

    • Audie Bakerson

      It gets worse. Last year (or maybe late 2015, forget) President Park (remember, she’s daughter of former dictator Park) was proven to be a puppet for a pagan cult that groomed her for the presidency and preformed rituals in government buildings. All sorts of government funds were embezzled including Park’s wardrobe fund. An actress was subject police abuse because she played the love interest of an actor one of the cultists liked.

      Everything you do online in South Korea is tracked via your SSN (Proxy use rate exceeds China). No only will looking at naked cartoons get you locked up for longer than a rapist and permanently branded a sex offender (!) someone doing it on your property will result in punishment to you. Self defence is prohibited.

      If you just listened to “mainstream” media all you’d have heard about this would be a vague article about Samsung’s head (one of the cultists, but they won’t mention that) has been arrested for something vague. I wish I was a good enough story teller to make this up.

      • SP mclaughlin

        At least you have internet access to look up naked cartoons unlike in the northern half of the country lol(i).

      • GUNxSPECTRE

        Replace the “cult” with “corporate interest lobbyists”, a certain government agency that surveils the people, and the populace inundated with info from MSM from both sides of the political scale. Sounds familiar right?

        Difference is we already had our Nixon, President Park is theirs.

        • Audie Bakerson

          That’s actually why anger over Park is so big there now. People expect politicians to be crooked for their own gain or gain of relatives. Park did it purely for a cult that controls her despite having to bleed personally for it.

  • Hia Ren

    We have the same brass collecting culture in Singapore, and we do have brass catchers attached to all our weapons. I do believe that the reasons for doing so are the same as the ROK armed forces. My only worry is that soldiers become more preoccupied in ensuring spent casings are collected than actually going through training properly, especially during simulated firefights. I remember being a cadet and being reluctant to shift from one firing position to another for fears of forgetting where the 7.62 links were!

  • Seth Hill

    I’m curious if they are saving money by doing this?

    • TheNotoriousIUD

      Based on the extra amount of time the range officers have to expend I doubt it.

      • Seth Hill

        What “extra amount of time”? The brass is caught in the catcher, the soldier dumps it in the bin/barrel/etc.

    • FarmerB

      It’s not about money, it’s about control.

      • Seth Hill

        Ummmm….. everything in the military is about control, helllooooo. I didn’t ask if they were doing it TO save money, I asked if they were saving any money BY doing it. What happens to the brass after is collected? Are they selling it? Are they having it reloaded for training? Those things would save money.

        • FarmerB

          No, I wasn’t talking about the military – I was talking about the state.
          I don’t know what the Koreans do, but most military I’ve seen collect their brass to resell it.

  • JRo

    ROK Marines are just as strict about brass collection. The biggest flaw of the brass catchers is not the weight, but the fact that they induce a crap-ton of malfunctions. You could say that’s good training, except the remedial action is totally different – and more administrative – when a brass catcher is mounted.

    • FarmerB

      Yeah, I’ve used them a bit. They suck.

  • Saumya Supratik

    Brass catchers are also common in India.

  • I bet ROK can’t wait for caseless ammo to be perfected.

    • Caseless

      I get the joke, but it wouldnt be the solution. Than its impossible to prove you did not stole a round. Even tough, against common thinking, caseless actually has leftover pieces, so they maybe could be counted.

  • Saumya Supratik

    They are common here in India. If these aren’t available, berets are utilised for the brass catching role. Even the SF uses Coke/Pepsi bottles as makeshift brasscatchers on their Tavors.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/85dc1a361d08158049f9866864997561e1e457d2963f6f71eb58b3003506c503.jpg

  • pollana

    The real reason is that the ROK military has hidden 100 golden brass shells among the ammunition supply, whoever finds a golden shell, gets discharged with honours from the military and a lifetime supply of kimchi.

  • Don Ward

    I guess a country where the nation’s capitol and the preponderance of the population and infrastructure sits within artillery range of a nation run by a family of unhinged lunatics creates an atmosphere in the military where mistakes aren’t tolerated. Who’d have thunk it?

    • Deplorable Anti-Communist Nick

      unhinged FAT lunatics.

  • Brasstard

    I’m sure glad the American military doesn’t do that by where I live or I would have had a lot less money for guns and ammo. I’m crippled now but years ago I used to “police” mostly blank 5.56 7.62 and 50bmg from the desert by my house and take them to the scrap yard. Sometimes find things like m16 magazines, knifes, tools etc…

  • valorius

    In the US Army we call brass collectors “Private.”

    • I once asked a SNCO why we don’t just use brass collecting devices on ranges, and he replied “Why should we? When we have privates and PFCs???”

    • Deplorable Anti-Communist Nick

      Been there.. lol

  • Tour18

    Waste not, want not… I think that’s how it goes. Anyway, government quantities of brass must be worth a penny or two… Not for my thing, but just sayin’…

    • Tour18

      Just realized I have two NKA regulars as my photo… hehehe…

  • Cannoneer No. 4

    Where do you think all that brass junk for sale on the Itaewon comes from? Brass mining is lucrative. Every spent casing not recovered is a won the officer in charge of the range doesn’t get. 40 years ago Ottishee would come on to Nightmare Range to police up .50 cal brass from tanks still firing.

    • stimr2

      Exactly, during the Vietnam War ROK soldiers would collect all the brass and pound them flat so they could ship them back home.

    • Ranger Rick

      Good old Chogi Boys.

  • Joe

    I took my brother in law shooting after Christmas and he told me about this. I recall the US Army standard was 70% a decade ago. This seems extreme to me but I’m not Korean.

  • .45

    I couldn’t watch that film long enough to see the ending, but I get the general idea. Korean wannabe Kiss punk rocker sporting white makeup and purple hair gets beaten up by his squadmates a lot. I wonder how weird they think our cartoons are….

  • Bierstadt54

    So SK infantry go to sleep at night and dream of caseless ammo?

    • stimr2

      They’re probably dreaming of when their military serve is over. Many see it as a burden. That’s one of the problems with a conscript military.

      • GUNxSPECTRE

        It’s like an off-year from school! Except you get to shoot things.

        I think the conscription model worked for the first couple of decades after the war, but now, it’s as effective as TSA is for airport safety; it’s the illusion of security. Open confrontation with N.Korea will be a trade of artillery and possibly nukes. Mass infantry is going to be worth very little.

      • Jacob Peters

        Maybe but a conscript military turns out a better citizen and real men.

    • Ken

      How do you prove the round was expended if you aren’t left with anything to turn in though?

      • Simple, if a platoon gets 500 rounds of ammunition to train with, the logistics officer better get back 500 rounds of either fired or unfired ammunition.

        • Ken

          Kind of hard if they went with caseless ammo though.

  • JoelC

    I think you mean “Steel catchers.” Russia doesn’t seem to use much brass.

  • Audie Bakerson

    Japan has the same practice for military and police going by all I’ve seen.

  • stimr2

    As stated in the article there are several reasons for collecting all the brass. In the past brass was collected to reload ammunition and raw materials for Korea’s burgeoning industries. Brass cookware is quite popular in Korea. ROK soldiers in Vietnam would collect brass and pound them flat to be shipped back home.

    Currently, it does more so with the growing number of suicides and shooting rampages in the ROK military. All healthy South Korean males must serve in some way. The current generation of South Korean males are spoiled compared to the generations before them. Some are not able to deal with military life. They become outcasts and some eventually snap which leads to suicides or shooting rampages. It also doesn’t help that South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

    South Korea also has some very strict gun laws. They do have public shooting ranges, but shooters are required to wear body armor and the firearms are tethered. People have gone to these ranges to commit suicide.

  • Richard

    Interesting – there are few similarities with Australia in these comments.

    In the ADF they don’t count every case, but they do make an effort to collect every single one. And being found in possession of a fired case is treated similarly to possession of a live round.

    Australia also has a very few public handgun ranges. The new ones have both the pistol and the shooter tethered into an elaborate harness system so they can’t shoot themselves or someone else.

    No body armor, but that’s only because body armour is classified in the same category as automatic weapons so it’s restricted to police and military use, and a very few security guards, only.

    Of course, in Australia handgun ownership is still allowed under very restrictive circumstances, but every few years the rules are changed to make it even more expensive and difficult.

    Current round is focused on making security too onerous for people to comply with, and limiting ammunition purchases.

    • FarmerB

      Australian handgun ranges are teathered – I’m calling BS on that. Maybe some public “come in off the street and try it” events, but you claiming handgun ranges in Australia are like that is crap.

  • Richard

    I think that’s for environmental reasons, certainly it is in Finland.

  • Ken

    Taiwan is similar with strictly they have soldiers collect every piece of brass. Since they also have very tight gun control there (made easier by the fact it’s an island), they definitely wouldn’t want conscripts stealing ammo or casings that could be used to load ammo.

  • MeaCulpa

    There’s brass catchers for most older full auto capable weapons like the M240 (KSP 58), the Swedish K (Kpist) and the CEMTE/G3 (AK3) but there’s none for the FNC (AK5), the M249 (KSP 90), the Glock (pist 88), the MG3 (KSP 94). The idea of brass catching is pretty dead and has been – apart from maybe the Home guard (Hemvärnet) and perhaps some REMF:s – at least the last 15 years.

  • Capn Jack

    While stationed in Spain I saw a Spanish pilot get out of his plane after an aborted takeoff and punch his crew chief several times.

    • MeaCulpa

      That seems stupid “oh better punch the guy that makes sure my plane is safe and I return home alive, what could possibly go wrong?!”

  • nonobaddog

    So I could donate one or two hundred brass cases to them to help out a little. Where do I send them?

  • Tassiebush

    That’s horrific. I feel like sending spent brass care packages over. I hope they learn to be nicer to each other with the passage of time.

  • 6.5x55Swedish

    We have brass collectors in Sweden as well for our AK4 (G3A3). Just to keep things clean and reduce the amount of brass flying around the range, those rifles are quite painfull to stand next to since the brass is heavy and comes at you with a lot of force. I’d say it is good at reduce the amount of time you spend doing other things than training.

  • FarmerB

    Yeah – for unlicensed shooters – they have similar stuff in parts of the US for tourists. In California (for example), they won’t let a non-resident of the US shoot at all.
    So, I accept that if you define public as “available for shooting by unlicensed members of the public” then it’s probably the only legal way in South Australia – not sure it applies to other states.

    But it’s grossly mid-leading to generalise it to every range or shooter as it doesn’t apply to licensed shooters or club members.

    “In Australia, there’s no such thing as something too strange to be true” – especially when it comes to being anti-firearm. Which is why I packed up all my guns and left the place.

  • iwalla

    I’m starting to think asians aren’t suitable to field a decent military. The ROK probably gonna go postal like the Japanese did in WWII.

  • uisconfruzed

    I feel much better about trying to get most of the brass back to the tumbler.
    What would a Korean pay for; 22LR, 7.62×51, 7.62×39, 7-08, 5.56, .223, 300BLK, .308, 30-06, .44mag?????
    I feel a new Ebay page coming on.

  • Core

    Brass Accountability Stigma To Appease Rear Directorship (BASTARD): often politically motivated by anti-gun culture due to lack of fact and or ignorance to the causation of violent crime and the negative stigma associated with “evil” guns within traditional non-gun-toting Eastern nations. Get your facts straight, don’t be a BASTARD..

  • Colonel K

    Brass catchers have other utilities. We fired so many unrecovered blank rounds on the maneuver ranges that it became dangerous to drive vehicles across them for fear of tire punctures. Brass catchers were employed to alleviate this problem and to save training time (no more wasted hours searching for brass). They also can be useful for special raids or sniping scenarios where you don’t want to leave behind any calling cards that might identity who you are. Admittedly, this last application is somewhat limited in scope, but still worthy of note.

    • Blaine

      Interesting, what vehicles were getting flat tires due blanks?

      • Colonel K

        I can’t say for certain, but as I recall, they were regularly using Dodge pickups, M551s, and Duece-and-a-halfs. This was back in the 80s at Camp Bullis in Texas. Normally, brass wouldn’t be a big problem, but when enough of it collects between the rocks,soil, and roots, it is possible for it to become wedged in an upright position and act like punji sticks or nails. If it skirts the tread and lands in the grooves of a tire, or if it sticks through the sidewall, it can penetrate deep enough to cause a slow leak that leads to a flat.

  • chino

    During my time in Singapore Armed Forces 85-96, we weren’t so hard on collecting brass. At the range, where we had to shoot, change mags and run from 300m right up to 15m from the butt, all we had to do was collect the brass from the ground when range was over. We didn’t use the spent cartridge collector bag at the range because they cause IAs. The brass were collected not so much for security reasons – they use metal detectors at the end of each range – but for tidiness and recycling. When firing plastic blanks on maneuvers, however, we have to use the spent cartridge catchers. This was because it was impossible to go back and effectively collect blank cartridges over a large area of forest. The plastic blanks fouls the rifle and are too weak to cycle the action. Add to that the badly-designed cartridge catcher and you’re reduced to using a (malfunctioning) bolt-action rifle. The military was taken to task by the government to clean up the training areas – which also happened to be nature reserves – of the millions of spent bio-undegradable plastic blank cartridges used by generations of servicemen – littering the grounds.