One NS-training death a year on average over past two decades: Ng Eng Hen

Vernon Lee
Senior Editor
Photo of Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen: Gov.SG

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that both servicemen Dave Lee and Gavin Chan were posthumously promoted. This is incorrect – only Lee was promoted following his death. 

There has been an average of one national service training-related death a year over the past two decades, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Thursday (17 May).

Speaking in Parliament during his Ministerial Statement on the recent deaths of two full-time national servicemen (NSF), Ng pointed out that there was no NS-training death from 2013-2016, showing that zero fatalities can be achieved with effort.

Ng was giving details on the circumstances, investigations and safety measures taken in relation to the deaths of 3rd Sergeant (3SG) Gavin Chan last year and Corporal First Class (CFC) Lee Han Xuan Dave last month. CFC Lee was posthumously promoted.

On 15 September last year, 3SG Chan was participating in Exercise Wallaby at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland, Australia, when a Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle he was guiding out of difficult terrain landed on its side. The 21-year-old later succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead on the same day in hospital.

On 30 April this year, CFC Lee, a 19-year-old Guardsman from the 1st Battalion Singapore Guards, succumbed to his heat injuries and died after taking part in an 8-kilometre fast march in Bedok Camp on 18 April.

A Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the death of SGT Chan had been concluded and recommended various safety measures with the aim of preventing a repeat of the incident. A separate COI will look into the death of CFC Lee and unveil its findings in due course.

Ng told the House that the External Review Panel (ERP) looking into safety at the Singapore Armed Forces will also be involved in the COI for all training-related deaths.

The chairman of the ERP, Heng Chiang Gnee, has agreed to include one of the panel’s members in the COI, Ng said. In addition, the COI will submit its full report to the ERP for review. The ERP will then provide a written report on the COI findings, which will be made public, Ng added.

“With these multiple layers of safety, and with experts within and outside assisting the SAF, we can move decisively to make zero training death the norm. I know it’s difficult but it must be done,” Ng said.

Separately, Ng said the Chief of Defence Force and the service chiefs have assured him that safety will continue to get their highest attention in order to achieve zero fatalities. But all individual commanders and soldiers also have a role to play to protect themselves, he stressed.

Commanders know that “precious sons” are entrusted to the country when they train during National Service and that the government will instill in every commander and solider a strong sense of responsibility in ensuring training safety at all levels, Ng said.

The minister also encouraged Members of Parliament to seek any clarifications regarding the deaths of SGT Chan and CFC Lee.

“Parliament is a critical and appropriate forum to ensure that we have done all that is possible to make safety a top priority so that every soldier is well protected as they defend Singapore. Our soldiers deserve no less,” Ng said.