SINGAPORE: In a letter sent to SAF soldiers on Thursday (May 3), Army Chief BG Goh Si Hou sought to reassure his men that the army will ascertain the facts behind the death of full-time National Serviceman Dave Lee.
The 19-year-old died on Monday, almost two weeks after he was hospitalised with signs of heat injury upon completing an 8km fast march on the morning of Apr 18. He was taken to Bedok Camp’s medical centre and later admitted to Changi General Hospital, but his condition worsened.
"Many of you would have read online allegations about the circumstances that led to this grave incident," BG Goh said in the letter seen by Channel NewsAsia.
"We do not have all the facts yet, and there is no point in speculation. Trust that our Army is conducting thorough investigations, as we take all major training incidents seriously. We will ask honest questions of ourselves," he added.
"We have also convened an independent Committee of Inquiry. As a public institution, we must ensure accountability. Equally important, trust that our Army will be fair. We will back our commanders and trainers up, as long as we do our job in line with sound regulations, and anchored on our values," BG Goh said.
He said that the army will strengthen its safety system, to ensure that soldiers can "train realistically and train safely".
"Where we find that we have fallen short, we are determined to strengthen and enforce safety purposefully – more so when we have lost a precious son," he said. "We will be holding a Command Call in the week ahead, to share initial findings and immediate measures we are taking as an Army."
"The Army safety system is not broken," BG Goh stressed. "Otherwise, we would not be able to take civilian soldiers and train thousands of NSFs and NSmen every year, and still manage the inherent risks of military activities."
BG Goh also urged commanders and trainers to protect and restore confidence in the institution, and called on soldiers to continue to do their jobs well.
"We are a citizen Army that is built on public trust and confidence. When that confidence is shaken, we must protect and restore it. And it starts with all our commanders and trainers, who are the touchpoints to our soldiers and, by extension, their families," BG Goh said.
"Take ownership and give confidence to our soldiers, especially our NSFs. Explain our training and safety systems; tell them the Army you know. For we have good systems, and good commanders – many of whom are NSFs themselves. But more than words, through your actions, you will be the most solid proof that we place utmost importance on training safety, and we care for our soldiers," he added.
"Any training death is one too many. Dave’s passing will not be forgotten, and must spur us to do better for all our soldiers. We will take a hard look, learn the right lessons, and strengthen our systems."
Corporal First Class Lee will be accorded a military funeral on Saturday.
BG Goh said: "We will honour Dave’s memory and service, and give him a dignified send-off. It is the least we can do. And nothing we can do will truly ease the anguish and loss felt by his parents, in losing their son. This will always be a painful reminder of our duty of care for our soldiers."
Lee enlisted in the army on Jan 5. After completing Basic Military Training in March, he was posted to the 1st Battalion Singapore Guards unit.