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Byong or byeong (Korean: "병", "兵") is a military term used in the armed forces of South Korea to describe a soldier, airman, sailor, or marine who holds a junior enlisted rank. The North Korean equivalent to the rank is somewhat ambiguous. Enlisted personnel under an NCO would be called as byeong or byeongsa (병사, 兵士) as it is a general term in Korean language for a soldier, but it is not a rank in itself.
The rank of byeong is divided into four classes those being:
- Byeongjang (E-5) 병장/兵長/Sergeant
- Sangbyeong (E-4) or sangdeungbyeong 상병/上兵 or 상등병/上等兵/Corporal(Specialist)
- Ilbyeong (E-3) or ildeungbyeong 일병/一兵 or 일등병/一等兵/Private First Class
- Ibyeong (E-2) or ideungbyeong 이병/二兵 or 이등병/二等兵/Private
The Sino-Korean word component "byeong" means "soldier" literally, used in a wide variety of words related with soldiers, like in busang-byeong (a wounded soldier) (Korean: "부상병", "負傷兵"), but rarely (usually in technical context in armed forces) per se.
Some South Korean byeongjang who work closely with their American military counterparts are frequently addressed as "sergeant" or the equivalent E-5 term in English by the U.S. military. This varies however by unit. In a similar vein, some American E-5s are called hasa by the ROK members, as their status is one of an NCO.
The various ranks of byeong are denoted by stripes worn laterally on a service member's left sleeve. An even lower rank, that of mudeungbyeong (Korean: 무등병, Hanja: 無等兵, lit. "soldier with no rank"), also known as hullyeonbyeong (Korean: 훈련병, Hanja: 訓鍊兵, lit. "trainee soldier"), is usually believed to be held by enlisted recruits in basic training, and those recruits are not allowed to have any insignia on their uniform until they finish the training course, but they are actually regarded to be ideungbyeong (the lowest byeong rank) officially.
In most comparative military scales, a byeongjang is considered the equivalent of a non-commissioned officer equal to a sergeant. The South Korean military, however, does not generally grant NCO powers to a service member until obtaining the rank of hasa. Still, byeongjang in South Korea is exceptionally considered as an NCO when holding the squad leader position.
The word byeong (soldier) has a natural context that personnel in those ranks are not in commanding responsibilities, thus not NCOs at all. They are strictly distinguished from the ranks above in many respects. Personnel with ranks of hasa or above are called ganbu (Korean: "간부", "幹部", lit. "the executive members"), as an antonym of byeong. South Korea's South Korean military are retained by the conscription system. If a person is enlisted to an armed force and has not applied for NCO or officer, then his highest rank until he finishes the mandatory service term (21 months in case of the ROK Army, as of 2012) is to be the highest rank of byeong (i.e. byeongjang).