All Korean men are required to serve in the military for a minimum of 21 months, but there are a few exceptions to this. Athletes who medal at the Olympics or win a gold medal at the Asian Games are exempt, as well as those with national merit.
Kim Jong Kook‘s father was a veteran during the Vietnam War and received an honor of national merit for his service. This meant that one of his sons was eligible for military exemption, or a reduced enlistment period of just 6 months.
Because of his high-profile as a singer and entertainer during his peak in the mid-2000’s, Kim Jong Kook was worried about returning to the celebrity industry if he took the “easy” way out of military service.
Even before he enlisted, Kim Jong Kook was seriously worried about how he would return to the entertainment scene after his military discharge.
— Park Soo Hong, a close friend of Kim Jong Kook’s
His father saw the amount of worry Kim Jong Kook was having, and excused him from the national merit program.
The applications for national merit for both Kim Jong Kook and his older brother Kim Jong Myeong were purposely delayed so they could properly serve their mandatory military enlistment. Only after their discharge did their father apply for national merit.
Even though Kim Jong Kook served his full 21 months, there was still a negative reaction from the public as he served in public service even though he looked extremely fit.
This was due to his back disc injury, which was considered severe. Kim Jong Kook had been suffering from back pains ever since he was young, so he started working out to relieve the pain. He broke his leg when he was young, and developed scoliosis due to the uneven lengths of his legs. To this day, Kim Jong Kook suffers from back pains, and is always stretching or working out to keep his pains minimal. Fans have noticed Kim Jong Kook sometimes grabbing his back during Running Man episodes, and during the show’s earlier days, he even mentioned he couldn’t run because of his back.