Following the death of Singaporean actor and reservist Corporal First Class Aloysius Pang as a result of injuries sustained during a military exercise in New Zealand, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will be slowing down the pace of its training across all services in order to prioritise the review of safety guidelines within the armed forces.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday (24 Jan), Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General (LG) Melvyn Ong said: “This will take the form of lowering the duration, the intensity, the frequency of existing training, take some things out, to do training better at a more sustainable pace, to focus on safety.
“So all services will review this, lower their training tempo in the weeks ahead,” stressed LG Ong.
LG Ong also said that the “reduction of training tempo following the safety timeout will be enforced for as long as it takes for” SAF “to get it right”.
He added that “we want to do it right, we want to do it safe for every activity, we want to do it right every time”.
SAF’s operational readiness, stressed Lieutenant-General Ong, will not be affected by the decreased pace of training “as it would not involve those on operations and deployments”.
When queried on how SAF would respond to the parents of NS servicemen, given that there have been four training-related deaths in the span of the last 18 months, LG Ong said that the superiors in SAF has a “responsibility to ensure the safety of their children” and to “ensure that parents are assured” of the armed forces’ capability in providing the necessary safety provisions for their children”.
LG Ong emphasised that “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 in the areas of vehicle safety.
“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,” he added, citing the presence of ERPSS, which is “an external review panel on SAF safety” which will “oversee the conduct of safety and systems reviews for MINDEF and the SAF”.
“Interim progress reports will also be provided to MINDEF leadership from the ERPSS, so we are always in constant contact with them.
“The system, I’d say, is largely in place,” LG Ong insisted.
He reiterated, however, that “going forward, what we will do is lower the tempo” of the training exercises.
“I believe that once we lower the training tempo … it’ll give us more time to ascertain the optimum level of activity, the right emphasis and the right training activity level. I think this will put us in a much better state,” said LG Ong.
“No one needs to fear any disciplinary action for doing right to protect lives during training”: Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen conveyed his condolences to CFC (NS) Pang’s family in a Facebook post the same day, and stressed that “The SAF is fully assisting the family”.
“Our grief counsellors are on the ground to comfort the family. But I know that no words or deeds can relieve their sorrow or replace their loss. I hope and pray that the passage of time will bring them some comfort,” Dr Ng assured.
The Defence Minister added: “The Republic of Singapore Air Force’s KC-135 has been sent to New Zealand to repatriate his body”.
Dr Ng also reminded SAF servicemen to inform their commander or to cease training the moment they detect “an unsafe practice” in order to protect themselves and their army buddies.
“No one needs to fear any disciplinary action for doing right to protect lives during training,” he said.
Netizens were not too pleased with Dr Ng’s suggestion to report potentially unsafe practices and for stating that SAF soldiers do not have to worry about any repercussions that may arise out of making such reports, given that the reality allegedly appears to be otherwise:
Previously, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) announced the death of CFC (NS) Pang in a statement on Wednesday (23 Jan):
Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Operationally Ready National Serviceman, Corporal First Class (National Service) [CFC (NS)] Pang Wei Chong, Aloysius passed away at 2045hrs on 23 January 2019 (SG time) at Waikato Hospital, New Zealand.
An Armament Technician from the 268th Battalion Singapore Artillery, CFC (NS) Pang was carrying out repair works inside the Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer (SSPH) with two other SAF personnel on 19 January 2019 at Waiouru Training Area, New Zealand.
Unfortunately, CFC (NS) Pang sustained injuries when the gun barrel was lowered. He was evacuated to Waikato Hospital, a regional trauma centre where he underwent a number of surgeries to treat his injuries.
Dr Teo Li Tserng, Chief of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, was flown in to assist the New Zealand medical team tending to CFC (NS) Pang.
Despite surgical attempts to repair damaged organs and putting him on artificial life support, CFC (NS) Pang succumbed to the injuries and passed away.
MINDEF and the SAF also extended their “deepest condolences to the family of CFC (NS) Pang and will continue to render assistance and support in their time of loss”.