“I am deeply sorry for the loss of four precious NSmen (national servicemen) in the last 17 months,” said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in a ministerial statement addressing the deaths. “MINDEF and the SAF will hold ourselves accountable for every single NSman entrusted to us.”
The most recent death of national serviceman Aloysius Pang sent shock waves across the island. The 28-year old actor died on 23 Jan, four days after sustaining severe injuries while carrying out maintenance work on a Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer (SSPH) as part of his reservist duties in New Zealand.
In November 2018, a full-time national serviceman (NSF) Liu Kai died after a Bionix vehicle reversed into a Land Rover he was driving. Before that in April, 19-year old NSF Dave Lee died nearly two weeks after showing signs of heat injury following an 8km fast march.
In 2017, NSF Gavin Chan died after he was ejected from a Bionix during another overseas exercise in Australia.
Addressing questions on the experience of Corporal Pang and whether or not he was properly trained to work on the SSPH, Dr Ng noted that this had been Pang’s 7th in-camp training. He also stated that Pang had undergone extensive training on maintaining and servicing the gun. The two other servicemen in his crew were also just as experienced as he was.
In his statement about the safety policies of the SAF, Dr Ng said, “This imperative of NS and our national defence does not absolve or reduce the accountability of MINDEF and the SAF in any way, to ensure safe training,” Dr Ng said.
“On the contrary, it compels MINDEF and the SAF to do all that is humanly possible to prevent training deaths for NSmen because precious sons have been entrusted to us by their families.”
On 31 Jan, MINDEF revealed a new Inspector-General’s Office (IGO) that will be tasked to ensure a command emphasis on safety across all SAF units. The move is also a response to the External Review Panel on SAF Safety which found that while the safety policies and systems of the SAF are largely in place, there was a need for more compliance checks and ground level audits, said Dr Ng.
He also talked about several other measures MINDEF and the SAF is adopting to drive home a culture of safety and enforcement against slack practices. For example, SAF unit commanders found to have committed safety lapses will be penalised during their performance review. The SAF, supervised by the IGO, will also be increasing safety audits of units by inspection teams.
The other measures he highlighted were already in place such as the existing 24-hour safety hotline which servicemen can call to report safety incidents and near-misses; the external review agency, ERPSS which comprises of prominent safety experts and professionals outside the SAF; and appropriate adjustment time for servicemen to get used to military settings which included conducting briefings and inspections to ensure that soldiers are ready.
Dr Ng also added that NS training is progressive. He noted that it starts with refresher training for individual skills and proficiencies before operations are conducted. And before deployment, servicemen receive further training.
“The IGO will review if further mitigating measures are needed to help NSmen adjust from civilian life to ICT (In-Camp Training),” Dr Ng added.