by Brad Bowyer
In case you have not listened to my latest Brads Bites I just wanted to extract my comments on the tragic death of Aloysius Pang. This will be my last post on the matter but felt it was important to put my thoughts in writing as well as verbally.
I like everyone followed the news and shared where appropriate this terrible accident from when it was first reported until we got the sad word of his passing.
Before I say more, I once again offer my deepest personal condolences to his family and friends. Having suffered the death of close ones myself I know words do little to numb the pain, but they do offer some comfort to know that others have you in their hearts and minds in your time of grief. I pray he rests in peace.
Back to the point, and beyond the devastating effects this tragedy has had on Aloysius close ones, it has shone a big spotlight on the worsening safety conditions that our NS boys operate under. In fact, I shared a post last week from the Online Citizen from an NS man who said he was in New Zealand and it describes a situation where unrealistic demands, driven by threat of punishment, prompted servicemen to take risks to meet them.
We saw the usual weak responses from our ministers and commanders, and I say usual because I understand this is now the 9th NS related death in the last 15 months, and so we will have another committee of enquiry and of course responsibility is again as usual being shifted from the senior commanders to the lower ranks.
Our defence minister Ng Eng Hen even came out with a statement that I must read in full to be believed. He said
“If any SAF soldier detects an unsafe practice, he should inform his commander or stop training to protect himself or his buddies. No one needs to fear any disciplinary action for doing right to protect lives during training.”
This may sound good on the surface but for anyone with Military experience these words are the last thing any competent leader in an army wishes to hear.
To be an effective fighting force the men need to be focused totally on the task at hand and not be questioning it or its safety. That sense of safety should come because the men have confidence that the leaders know what they are doing, have properly evaluated the risks and the necessity of any action and its urgency and then taken the appropriate steps to mitigate any dangers as far as possible.
Minister Ng should be looking squarely at the leadership at all levels in this incident and not be passing the responsibility on to those whose role it is to follow and not to lead.
We all know the military is a dangerous occupation, but this level of deaths is not just unacceptable it speaks to a clear failing in how NS is operated.
I understand the need for NS but certain occupations should be reserved for our full time professional army and maintaining complex equipment should be one of them, especially field maintenance during an exercise under time pressure where you need to be very familiar and practiced to do the job properly and safely.
With my son receiving his call up papers this year, I like every parent with children in or going in to NS is rightly worried.
I believe we need a full review of the entire NS structure and purpose and clearly define what is an NS suitable task and what is a full-time task.
If there is no choice that a reservist undertakes certain roles then we should look at how much ongoing training, familiarisation or reorientation time they need to remain competent and safe at that task.
And above all the leaders need to fully understand the capabilities of their men and not ask them to do things that they are not fully prepared for.
The military is not an easy profession and it is just a fact that it is dangerous to have amateurs and part timers doing certain things.
I hope this tragedy will finally be a wakeup call to us all that this seemingly unaccountable demanding culture cannot continue, and meaningful changes will finally need to be made.
We should demand no less from the leaders.
This was first published on Brad Bowyer’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission