Are expectations too high for SAF officers in training, ask NS men

On 23 January, Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Operationally Ready National Serviceman, Corporal First Class (National Service) [CFC )NS)] Pang Wei Chong, Aloysius passed away at Waikato Hospital, New Zealand due to injuries sustained while carrying repair works in self-propelled howitzer.

CFC (NS) Pang, along with two other SAF personnel, was said to be carrying repair works inside the Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer (SSPH) on 19 January. Unfortunately, CFC (NS) Pang was badly hurt when the gun barrel was lowered.

Dr Teo Li Tserng, Chief of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, was brought in to assist the New Zealand medical team tending to CFC (NS) Pang. Despite surgical attempts to repair damaged organs and putting him on artificial life support, he succumbed to the injuries and passed away.

Following his death, netizens have expressed their sadness over this unfortunate incident. However, some also revealed the harsh reality of SAF training.

As such, Facebook user Shane Sim, who said to have deployed to New Zealand himself, said that although SAF told and briefed officers about safety, but “intrinsically they instilled fear for failing to meet expectations or positive reinforcement if you meet expectations. Everybody is pressured to break safety procedures for the sake of meeting expectations”.

He went on further and mentioned that even though SAF insisted that they do safety checks and emphasised on doing things correctly, but they also expect officers to unload a truckload of bombs and deployment equipment within 12 to 15 minutes, which also includes deployment ground setup. Therefore, Sim said many of them succumb to stress and peer pressure, and cross safety boundaries to achieve this.

“Detachment that failed their timing gets confined on top of informal derogatory punishments. You and your teammates’ weekend anniversary with his mum or girlfriend depends on your actions. It’s a sad battle between safety and psychological torture,” he wrote.

Although he thinks the system would probably change for the better, but in the meantime, he questioned how many more injuries and deaths are we going to witness?

After reading Sim’s story, many netizens agreed to the reality of the training and thanked him for sharing his story.

However, Yao Weixiong Shem expressed that he thinks this is call operational readiness. He said in times of war, the enemy will not fit and wait for an officer to unload. “Peace time training is meant to get you ready to do it and to do it well under some pressure, so that when the real pressure is there, you can still do your task and keep u and your fellow soldier safe and come home. Is there a better reinforcement to improve? Probably. But this is the military. Not ur corporate world where your feelings need to be cuddled. The issue and challenge is to always watch out for safety. The objective is always bigger than yourself,” he opined. 

Wemmick Leong also agrees that safety is the utmost concern, but whether training as active or reservist, he says safety lies in the hands of individual and team, and most importantly, good brains. He added that accidents happen and there are times we can’t control with “sudden malfunctioned equipment that worked perfectly earlier”. He further said people shouldn’t judge too quickly as accidents happen in civilian life too like when one is involved in head on collision with another car.

Darrell Lye opined that as a Gun Commander, he understands the importance of time. But, this was a service and repair situation and timing was probably not an issue, unless it was a test of field repair capabilities of the Gun Tech team. He added that he really don’t know what their SOP is nowadays.

On the other hand, Stevenix Lim revealed that it is unacceptable to place an actor who comes back once a year to do on-site repair works for SSPH. “It should be done by professionals, otherwise what’s the point of your highly paid ST contractors. Skills that are rusty cannot be lubricated by one or two refresher courses,” he commented.

Lin Jingyang who was in the same FMP unit as CFC (NS) Pang questioned if MINDEF is hiding something. This is because he revealed that he was working with Chassis SSPH for two years and “there is no way one can get injuries like what was described by MINDEF, unless it hit the head or hand.” Also, SSPH is literally one of the safest armor vehicle to work with, said Lin.

Therefore, he was wondering if MINDEF is hiding something as CFC (NS) Pang was injured in the chest, and from what Lin understands, the accident happened inside the chassis and not outside.

Jack Yeo, who was an ex-TA in artillery, said that they are familiar with guns when they are active. But when they are reservists, they become unfamiliar with these guns due to less exposure. He then said that certain dangerous area should be handled by army regulars like repairs of guns or rifles.