SINGAPORE: The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has a responsibility to ensure the safety of its personnel, and parents of those personnel must be assured of that safety, said Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General (LG) Melvyn Ong in a press conference on Thursday (Jan 24), detailing the fatal incident involving actor Aloysius Pang.
An armament technician with the 268th Battalion Singapore Artillery, Pang had been participating in reservist training in New Zealand when he was crushed by the gun barrel of the howitzer he had been conducting repair work in.
The 28-year-old died on Wednesday night after undergoing surgery and being placed on artificial life support of the heart, lungs and kidney.
Pang's death is the fourth military training-related death in 18 months.
In November last year, NSF Liu Kai died after an armoured infantry fighting vehicle reversed into his jeep. Earlier in the year, NSF Dave Lee suffered a heatstroke after a fast march and died two weeks later. 3rd Sergeant Gavin Chan died in September 2017 after a vehicular accident at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Australia.
When asked what he would say to parents potentially worried about their children in national service, LG Ong said: "We are all parents - many of us are.
"Our parents come to the BMT (basic military training) graduation parade and I see the pride in their eyes when they see their children grow in national service. Parents are proud of their children serving national service.
"But on the other hand, it is our responsibility to ensure the safety of our children. And we must ensure that parents are assured."
"To the parents, I will say this," he added. "As a system, the SAF has put in place a good system. For all the incidents that have occurred, for all the findings ... and recommendations on how to improve the safety systems, we have fully brought them on board; be it in the areas of heat injuries or be it in the areas of vehicle safety. I think we don't shirk away from this and we always want to be better.
"And we have improved, in our system and the emphasis of the commanders especially in the army over the last couple of incidents. They've been going at it. And I think the safety system is in a better place but going forward what we will do is we will lower the tempo."
REVIEWING THE TRAINING TEMPO
Also speaking at the press conference was Chief of Army Major-General (MG) Goh Si Hou, who announced he had imposed an "army-wide safety timeout", which he said meant that all field training would not be carried out.
As Exercise Thunder Warrior in New Zealand in which Pang was a participant is an artillery live firing exercise, that part of the exercise has been stopped.
"Immediately after this incident, we called for a safety pause for the artillery training in New Zealand. Because of the nature of the incident, we also called for an immediate pause for all maintenance-related works for both New Zealand and in Singapore," said MG Goh.
"We have called for an army-wide safety timeout in order to allow our units time to review the safety processes and also to review the training tempo," he added.
MG Goh also said: "We may have sound safety systems and processes and good commanders on the ground, but we recognise that every time we fall short, the cost could be very costly.
"I told all my commanders that this cannot be business as usual. We are very sorry for every training death that happens at SAF."
He added: "This is also a good time to remind all our soldiers about taking care of their own personal safety, (as well as that of their) fellow buddies and soldiers."
Meanwhile, LG Ong said he would be expecting a review of existing training tempo from the different SAF services in about a month or two.
"Following the safety timeout I have asked all the services in the SAF to come back to review their training tempo with a view of lowering the tempo. After the safety timeout perhaps a month or two," he said.
LG Ong added that the safety timeout is for units in training. "This will not affect operations, and soldiers and troops on deployment," he said.
"We will reduce our training tempo and review this across the SAF to focus on safety for all our NSFs and NSmen. This will take the form of lowering the duration, intensity and frequency of existing training.
"(We may) take some things out to do training better at a more sustainable pace. This reduction of training tempo following the safety timeout will be enforced for as long as it takes to get this right. As the Chief of Army has said, it cannot be business as usual," LG Ong added.