Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) training deaths: Views from a father of one of the fallen

After last week's debate in Parliament on training safety in the Singapore Armed Forces, Lawrence Loh wrote to The Straits Times newspaper's Forum Page to share his opinion that the safety review in the Singaporean military should go beyond just being an academic exercise.

The Straits Times declined to publish his letter.

Mr Loh looks at the SAF training safety issue from the eyes of a parent who lost his son to a safety lapse 11 years ago.

By Lawrence Loh
It was deja vu when I read the story "Realistic training need not be unsafe" (Straits Times 15 November 2012). I was immediately transported to February 2001, when my older son died in a training accident at Changi Naval Base.

After several months of enquiry and investigation, the Republic of Singapore Navy briefed me on the findings, conceded that there were procedural lapses, and bore full responsibility for the accident.

As is normal, the staff involved were either demoted, re-deployed, or taken off their appointments.

I was told that procedures would be thoroughly reviewed, and training safety tightened, to ensure that similar incidents would not recur. To this, I told the then commanding officer who came to visit my family that identifying the causes of the accident would be an academic exercise unless it presented learning points which would prevent future occurrences.

Less than two years later, in January 2003, a collision between one of our naval ships, RSS Courageous, and an Indonesian merchant ship, resulted in the deaths of three women officers, and one gone missing.

So what happened to the supposedly thorough review of procedures?

This time around, it is heartening to note the Minister for Defence assuring again that there will be zero tolerance for training safety lapses. We can only hope that the commanders and men are constantly reminded to take this seriously.

I felt rather uneasy though when MP Lim Wee Kiak* commented on TV yesterday that our casualty rate is far lower than those of other countries. Are we supposed to be consoled by this? Let us not forget that ours is a peace-time military. Our men, including the career soldiers, have never gone to war. Hence, there is no excuse even for a low casualty rate. We need to guard against complacency. We need to be serious. There is no room for compromise.

* Dr Lim Wee Kiak is Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Foreign Affairs


Anonymous said...

Politicians cannot be trusted. They are vile and contemptible. None are excepted. Only idiots aspire to political power or to command positions in the armed forces.

Anonymous said...

I really feel very sorry for the parents whose kids have passed away during NS while serving the country. There are simply no recourse or avenues for them to do something correct the wrongs in SAF. Such is the sad state of affairs in SG, where as long as you are an ordinary citizen, you have no power whatsoever to question or direct state affairs. This really sucks!

Anonymous said...

Right, we are just a "digit" to them and nothing else.....

Anonymous said...

During on a training exercise at mid-night at the beginning of the year. My company mates and I were going through a command post setup exercise. During the exercise, a sergeant nearly fall off the intersection where the two platforms were linked. The intersection was closed up by a piece of metal. The OC of the unit came down to the incident area upon receiving the news. However we were shocked by his response to the sergeant "Why are you not careful?". How could he say that to him when either he could fall to his death or sustain serious injury if he had not hold onto the platforms? This incident left a deep impression on me regarding the safety urgency some officers have.

Anonymous said...

I feel that The TSRs in the SAF, while necessary, are a tad too much.

Excessive TSRs are a danger to all servicemen. I believe many Singaporeans who have been through National Service and experienced it for themselves will know and vouch for this. Danger arises when the practitioners think TSR don't make sense but its something they have to comply with and neglect the really critical ones.

In this sense, the TSRs are there to protect the organisation and not the soldiers.

Just take the case of traffic rules. We were taught to comply with the speed regulation of 60km/h on normal roads but is that realistic? The more practical thing to do is to increase the speed limit and enforce it rigorously. This can be applied to the SAf as well - have realistic and practical TSRs and commanders and men will comply not because they have to; but because they realize that it is a real and imminent danger if they do not.

Let's take the fat off the TSRs and make it realistic and practical.

Padaly said...

Such a cavalier attitude by that stupid MP! If only he had lost a son that way, then he would feel the pain of the heartbroken parent.

Anonymous said...

只准官放屁, 不准百姓拉屎!

Anonymous said...

'Let's take the fat off the TSRs and make it realistic and practical./

Can't agree more , I was force to drink a full 1 litre water the night before a route march, hardly 30 minutes after consuming of night snack which I actually drank 2 mugs of Milo.

Ended vomiting & feeling extremely uncomfortable the whole night long.


Anonymous said...

We should all be aware that MP Lim WK is a crooked thinker.

A few years back he was cornered by JC debaters at a discussion. The youngsters felt that he was evasive and intellectually suspect.

For those who watched Talking Point- The Vote last night would note that MP Lim has again been evasive to a point raised by the Uni Prof Lai who asked for transparency and publicizing of TSR for all parents to know. MP Lim's reply was to that effect that there are already lots of TSR etc but he conveniently evade the thrust of the point made by the prof, that is, to let these TSR be known to Singaporeans.

While Talking Point is quiet an interesting series and Daniel Martin is sharp, but my feel is that there is still a level stage managing behind the scene. One example from last night's episode - discerning viewers would have noted that MP Lim and the ex-Major called Tommy were from the same service and probably same unit - the Navy's Naval Diving Unit (NDU). The 'synergy' and sync between MP and Navy major was quite clear. They complemented each other very well. Do you think it is a coincidence that a father, whose son is about to be conscripted into the NDU, just so happened to call when these two (MP and ex-Major) are on the show? The show producer or DM must have arranged things to answer the father's called about 'Hell Week' at the NDU for recruits!

That left only the Uni Prof as the ONLY one really interested to pursue the subject objectively. MD don't count as he is supposed to be the intermediary and 'neutral'.

The said...

I think this is the same Lawrence, who was persuaded by friends to try and ask for deferment or exemption for his other son. So he went to his MP during the MPS and when his turn came, the MP said "so what I can do for you?" His file was with the MP and the MP obviously didn't read the case. When Lawrence mentioned that he was traumatized, the MP dismissed it by saying "oh, it will pass in a few months". Such insensitive remarks and lack of empathy by the MP. I understand that MP is no longer an MP.

Anonymous said...

Stupid comment by the MP.
How would he feel if the deceased were his own son?
One death is one too many.
Our political leaders may have high IQs but their EQs are always found wanting

Anonymous said...

Lim Wee Kiakbhas to be sacked. He is a disgrace to utter such a disgusting and insensitive remark. His mentality is substandard, belonging to that of some medieval ages. The correct safety thinking, applicable o developed countries, is even one death through accident is too much. When Vancouver constructed that winter games, one death occurred at early stages and they immediately viewed all risks analysis to ensure no accidents will occur, note the difference of this objective as opposed to merely a no repeat of the same accident. 11 years had passed and in between, we have a shameful record still. London was so proud they have zero fatalities in the cosntruction of the Olympics, China? Practically a death every now and then. Do we want to be there with the advanced countries armies or some unspeakable type?
Even in war, one causalty is still too much. Just look at the Israelites, not so long ago they suffered from human bombs. But now? They are fairly on top of the situation.

Anonymous said...

I hope these MPs and incompetent ministers receive their poetic justice soon, if there's really a higher being somewhere. We will celebrate and put salt intimidation their wounds when their family members suffer tragic endings.

Anonymous said...

By the way, for those we want to know more about 'Straight and Crooked Thinking' just do a search of Wikipedia where there are a wealth of information and the web. A book of that title written by a Cambridge U man is also available for free pdf download.

Dealing with PAP politicians we must be well armed to know and counter their crooked arguments and statistics!