June 13, 2008
SAF suspends physical training for three days
Review of procedures to be conducted after a second death in two days
By Teh Joo Lin & Jermyn Chow
THE Singapore Armed Forces yesterday called an unprecedented three-day halt to all physical and endurance training within the military, following the death of a serviceman in Brunei, the second training fatality in two days.
Until Saturday, the entire force of 300,000 active personnel and national servicemen will not be on obstacle courses, route marches or doing any fitness tests. Physically demanding field training is also out.
The 'time-out' will allow the SAF to ensure that proper procedures are in place and being followed, said Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean, who yesterday extended his deep condolences to the families of the two 20- year-old servicemen who died this week.
The latest fatality took place on Wednesday evening. A pilot trainee, Officer Cadet Clifton Lam Jia Hao, collapsed while undergoing jungle training in Brunei.
In the earlier incident on Tuesday morning, Recruit Andrew Cheah Wei Siong fainted during a 2km walk in Pulau Tekong.
Both servicemen received immediate medical attention and were evacuated by helicopter to hospital, where they later died.
The Defence Ministry said that investigations are under way. Initial findings indicate that all safety procedures had been followed in both instances.
Both men, recent polytechnic graduates, had cleared medical checks and were deemed fit for the respective training they were undergoing.
Of the two, OCT Lam was fitter and had to meet more stringent health and fitness standards to qualify for pilot training.
However, given the hot, humid conditions in the Brunei jungles, it is possible OCT Lam could have suffered heat stroke.
Recruit Cheah, who enlisted last Thursday, was undergoing an enhanced 15-week basic military training programme meant for mildly obese recruits.
The fatalities will again put the spotlight on sudden deaths of otherwise healthy young men. The issue was raised in Parliament three years ago, also after two servicemen died in quick succession.
At the time, Mr Teo said that 19 SAF personnel had died of sudden heart attacks in the preceding nine years, including five who collapsed during training.
Despite thorough health screening, safety measures and medical support in training, such deaths 'cannot be completely prevented', he said then.
On the decision to suspend training, Dr Bernard Loo, a specialist in defence studies at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, said that it would 'soothe public concerns over the safety of trainees'.
He added that safety regulations here were already among the most stringent in the world and comparable to those of the military in the United States and Britain.
MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC and deputy chairman of the GPC for Defence and Foreign Affairs Michael Palmer said the three-day time-out will allow the SAF to take stock, as medical conditions can be missed at medical check-ups and troops can be tired and make mistakes.
He added that it would be good to make public the findings of the three-day review to help assure parents whose sons are serving National Service.