With Flashy Campaign, Military Seeks Officers

Against the sound of heavy drumming and chanting, the commercial quickly flips from scenes of elephant-mounted Angkorian warriors to the present day—young military cadets jogging in formation, performing calisthenics and playing football.

Images of the cadets in classrooms and on computers then give way to shots of soldiers in camouflage firing assault rifles, launching rockets and leaping from helicopters with parachutes.

The penultimate title card asks viewers to “Together join hands for the national interest.”

The promotional spot—currently being aired on local television and posted online—is part of a campaign by the Ministry of Defense to bolster the ranks of its army officer corps, ministry spokesman Chhum Sucheat said on Wednesday.

General Sucheat said the effort —which along with the TV spot includes a website, a frequently updated Facebook page and information booths at Phnom Penh’s Olym- pic Stadium and on Koh Pich island —was aimed at increasing awareness of the exams required to enter the army’s officer training courses and institutes.

“Long ago, the Defense Ministry broadcasted about the military school examination,” Gen. Sucheat said, adding that the ministry halted its advertising efforts several years ago.

“This year, though, the Defense Ministry has advertised actively because we want the youth to be interested in taking the exam to enter the military sector,” he said.

Gen. Sucheat said the ministry was looking to add a total of 620 officer recruits, with 120 openings for a four-year program at the active-service officer school in Kompong Speu province’s Odong district, 250 openings for the four-year program at the Army Institute in Phnom Sruoch district and 250 openings for a six-month training course at the same school.

Candidates must be high school graduates and between the ages of 18 to 25 to apply, he said, adding that applications would be accepted through November 13.

A set of proclamations signed by Defense Minister Tea Banh on July 22 and posted to the campaign’s website states that cadets who graduate from the four-year programs at the military schools would earn a bachelor’s degree and be commissioned as second lieutenants.

According to the proclamations, those finishing the six-month course would be awarded the rank of chief warrant officer.

A still image from a promotional video produced by the Ministry of Defense to bolster the ranks of its army officer corps
A still image from a promotional video produced by the Ministry of Defense to bolster the ranks of its army officer corps

Gen. Sucheat said he did not know how long the cadets were required to serve following their graduation, but that he expected most would remain in the military until they retired.

“From my observations in the past, if they pass the exam and become military officers, they rarely leave from this sector,” he said.

Major General Meas Ly, deputy director of the Defense Ministry’s personnel department, said Thursday that the COT Cambodia, or the “cadet officer training” initiative, was led by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s eldest son, Hun Manet, a West Point-educated lieutenant general who has risen quickly through the ranks of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.

“The son of Samdech [Hun Sen] is responsible for all military testing and test evaluation,” Maj. Gen. Ly said. “Now everything regarding the military exam is under the control of the son of Samdech. No one dares interfere.”

While both Maj. Gen. Ly and Gen. Sucheat said they did not know how many applications had been submitted since they were made available on September 1, a visit to a registration center at the National Defense University in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district suggested that the advertising drive was having its desired effect.

A steady stream of young men moving through a line to apply to take the officer exam expressed support for the country’s military, but said that before this year, they were largely ignorant of how to join its ranks.

Pol Sophearun, a 21-year-old university student, said he learned about the exam from his father, who saw the campaign’s commercial while watching television in Svay Rieng province.

“I really love the military because it defends my country’s territory,” Mr. Sophearun said, adding that he would not let his ongoing studies at Phnom Penh’s Human Resources University prevent him from pursuing a career in the army.

“If I pass the military’s exam, I will drop out of my university,” he said.

Recent university graduate Sam Sokleng, 24, who learned about the exam through the COT Cambodia Facebook page, told reporters that the lack of details provided to him by recruitment officers didn’t bother him.

“If I had known about the exam when I finished high school, I would have joined already,” he said.

“If the leaders tell me to stay for five, 10, 20 years, I will stay.”

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