Saving future Private Lees and Third Sergeant Tans

Remembrance Poppy -

Lest we forget

It goes without saying that we need to protect our sons and daughters in service before they can protect us.

Reports on the findings of the inquiries into the death of full-time National Servicemen Dominique Sarron Lee and Tan Mou Sheng, coming just days after Remembrance Day, make for some tragic reading. Amidst the details of what went wrong and who were at fault was a short mention that Dominique’s mother, Ms Felicia Seah, has been visiting her son’s grave in Choa Chu Kang Cemetery every day since he died in April. How depressing is that?

My own experience in NS tells me that safety is enforced, but perhaps the emphasis is on the more obvious aspects such as the handling of guns and explosives. What could be neglected  sometimes are the other things that can kill as well — in this case smoke grenades and vehicles. In an adrenaline-laden environment full of young chaps not even old enough to vote, it’s easy to get all cavalier during training, as evident from a detail MP Alex Yam pointed out about the higher rate of accidents on Fridays. That is where the more senior officers come in. Unfortunately in these two cases it was the senior officers who had failed Dominique and Mou Sheng.

Five NS-related deaths this year come as quite a shock, but just as shocking is Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen’s reply when asked about the safety culture in the SAF: “The Chief of Army has assured me this is an isolated problem… My other source of assurance is the vehicle rate accidents, and it’s fairly low – 0.5 to 0.6 per 100,000 km.” I’m not sure what the minister expected the COA to say. Admit that it was totally his fault?

It is a tragedy on a national scale that no further questions will be asked beyond this lame parliament sitting; no media to poke further and no second opinion from experts other than those in the Committee of Inquiry that I assume was appointed by the government. As it is I can’t even make out what exactly is the compensation given from reading the news report.

In the UK, we get news too regularly of British soldiers getting killed in Afghanistan. I often wonder how the people here feel about their sons dying in a war that is not their own, protecting a country that is not theirs. But if that’s hard to fathom,  deaths in peacetime training must be even harder to accept.

According to the Straits Times report:

[Ms Seah’s] younger son, Daryl Shane Lee Rui Guang, 16, is slated for national service in two years’ time, and she is worried about that.

Daryl, an N-level student, said he is concerned about his safety but he knows he will need to serve his NS. “I am the only son left now. I cannot let anything happen to me. I need to take care of my mother,” he said.

If you have watched Saving Private Ryan you will be aware of a rule they have in the US called the Sole Survivor Policy. I can’t find any evidence of any other country having such a policy, but perhaps MINDEF can exempt little brother Daryl from NS, or at least from combat duties? Scant consolation, of course.