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Ng Eng Hen says ‘anybody can stop unsafe training’, but it seems like a far cry from reality

Following the recent National Service (NS) training deaths, parents who worry for their sons’ safety during NS can be assured that each and every soldier has the right to stop unsafe training, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told Parliament on Monday (11 February).

“I’ve said very clearly, on no uncertain terms, that anybody can stop unsafe training,” said Dr Ng. He added, “If you think it’s unsafe for your buddies, yourself, raise it up. If you think that someone is pushing beyond his means to physical harm, do so. I think that’s the way we maintain realistic training and give comfort to our parents.”

Defence Minister was responding to MP for Marsiling – Yew Tee GRC Alex Yam, who said that many parents in his constituency had asked him about the safety of their children.

“None of the parents who spoke to me said we should do away with National Service..but with four recent incidents they are worried, so how do we reassure them that safety is paramount, that their children will be taken care of?” he questioned.

Last month, national serviceman and Singaporean actor Aloysius Pang, 28, died after sustaining serious injuries in New Zealand while carrying out repair work on a Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer as part of his reservist duties.

On 3 November last year, full-time national serviceman (NSF) Liu Kai, 22, also lost his life after a Bionix vehicle reversed into the Land Rover he was driving, while NSF Dave Lee, 19, died on 30 April last year, nearly two weeks after showing signs of heat injury following an 8km fast march.

NSF Gavin Chan, 21, died on 15 September 2017 when he was ejected from a Bionix during an exercise in Australia.

With the occurrence of these deaths, Dr Ng said there needs to be a culture of safety at every level of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), although he knows that it could take many years to inculcate this.

“Who decides the culture? It’s all of us, our children, our friends, our relatives,” he noted.

In addition, MP for Nee Soon GRC Lee Bee Wah asked how servicemen can be reassured that they would not be dealt unfairly after reporting unsafe practices.

“I stated very clearly that there is a TSR (Training Safety Regulations) and anyone can stop it,” Dr Ng replied, mentioning that there are conducting and safety officers on the ground during training. “If you bring it up to them, we want a culture where the person can assess if safety is at risk. So on the ground there avenues, that’s in real time,” he added.

If there are recurring safety lapses or risky behaviour, Dr Ng said servicemen can use safety hotlines to report these anonymously, or they can write in and “we will take action”.

“I think the message is very clear to the units after this statement,” he said. “It’s always been, but if it needs to be clearer after the reiteration, then remember that unsafe practices will not be tolerated,” he warned.

However, many netizens feel that the minister's recommendation to stop training if they deem it unsafe is a far cry from reality. They felt that if they do voice out, they will be marked and will be required to train over the weekend.

Michael Kvm who actually told his superior that he can't do chin-up because he fractured his right wrist, was insisted to do more chin-ups until his wrist gave way and he fell onto the ground. This resulted to a broken ankle instead.

However, Facebook user Desmond Loh Sam Loong said that he did refuse to obey a command in army during his NS days due to safety issues. Although he was punished for insubordination, but he was also credited for highlighting the issue in time. Therefore, he believes everyone should "highlight all safety issues encountered in regardless of time, location and situation.