New creature comforts give soldiers a feeling of home

Taipei, Jan. 29 (CNA) From improving soldiers' living spaces to allowing Internet surfing and smart phone use when off-duty, the Army is pulling out the stops to make life on base feel more like home. Creature comfort initiatives have been implemented at 35 Army units since October, part of the military's efforts to improve public opinion of the armed forces and boost lower-than-expected enlistment figures as it continues the shift to an all-volunteer force. Among the selected units, mainly composed of enlisted soldiers and officers, is the multiple launch rocket battalion in Taoyuan County, northern Taiwan. Soldiers and officers in the 250-member battalion can liven up their quarters with decorations, even paint the walls, in addition to personal spaces including individual beds, desks and lockers in rooms outfitted with air-conditioning units. There is also a communal area designed to resemble a living room that offers TV, books and magazines in a relaxing environment as a reward for a day's hard work. Perhaps even more importantly for today's youth, Army personnel showcased a computer room with Internet access during a tour of the Taoyuan base. There, soldiers and officers can use computers connected to the Internet or bring their own mobile devices or computers -- all of which were previously off-limits. "The new initiatives will encourage more young people to enlist," said Sgt. Li Chun-ta, who now can use his tablet computer at the base. Corporal Cheng Tzu-hsi, 24, echoed the sentiment, saying that being able to use smartphones on base "allows us to stay connected with the rest of the world." She noted that in the past, sometimes around a dozen people would have to sleep in the same room, but with the new accommodations, each room houses just four to seven. For her part, Cheng said she is happy to have her own desk at the base, allowing her to do more reading. In the 35 units that enjoy improved amenities, soldiers have already begun showing an interest in extending their service time. The Army said that 56.1 percent of members in those units have volunteered for longer service, up form the previous figure of 45.3 percent. More Army units are set to benefit from the initiatives as the Army expands the program, it said. Taiwan plans to shift to an all-volunteer force by 2017. It originally planned for the transition to be completed by 2015, but pushed the date back due to lower-than-expected recruitment numbers. (By Elaine Hou)