7 SAF and Hometeam servicemen died in 2018 – 3 suicides, 3 training deaths, and one from abuse. The circumstances behind some of them would spark nationwide debates on the safety of NSFs and regulars, abuse in the armed forces, and the cost of national service.
Lee Han Xuan Dave
Lee Han Xuan Dave was a Guardsman from the 1st Battalion Singapore Guards, who passed away on 30 April at 5.32 pm at Changi General Hospital at the age of 19 years old.
PTE Lee was found to display signs of heat injury at about 08.35 am on 18 Apr 2018, noting that he had just completed an 8km fast march in Bedok Camp. He was evacuated to the camp’s Medical Centre where body cooling measures and treatment were continued by the SAF medical team. He was then transferred to Changi General Hospital, where he was warded in the Intensive Care Unit since 18 Apr 2018.
His condition did not improve in the ICU and worsened during the hospitalization. PTE Lee was pronounced dead at 5.32 pm on 30 Apr 2018 at CGH. PTE Lee’s aunt, Cecilia Yeo, had shared on her facebook, an alleged witness account from one of the soldiers with PTE Lee. The original Facebook post has been removed on Monday night and the Reddit post also had its content deleted. The post alleged abuse on the part of ground commanders and blatant disregard for safety protocols.
In October, Captain Tan Baoshu, 30, was charged in court in relation to the death of Dave Lee. In a separate statement, Mindef said the six national servicemen — two Regulars, four National Servicemen — will be investigated for potential breaches of military law.
Kok Yuen Chin
CPL Kok Yuen Chin’s colleagues at the Singapore Civil Defence Force held a celebration for him at the station’s watch room to mark his impending ORD between 8.40pm and 9.04pm on May 13. He was presented with a cake and a plaque by the 23-man team from his Rota.
After the celebration, some members of the team carried CPL Kok, a non-swimmer according to his family, to the pump well, where he sat on the edge. At 9.07pm, one of the officers went behind him and pushed him into the well, the report said.
CPL Kok did not resurface after he had been pushed in. Eight seconds later, the first serviceman jumped into the well in an effort to rescue him.
Eventually, one of the servicemen located CPL Kok within the well. The servicemen then worked together to use ropes to pull CPL Kok out. He was extracted from the pump well at 9.43pm, about 36 minutes after he had fallen in, the report said.
Paramedics then tried to resuscitate their colleague but to no avail. He was taken to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and arrived at 10.13pm. CPL Kok was pronounced dead at 11.02pm. An autopsy found the cause of death to be drowning.
CPL Kok’s death called into question the practice of ragging in the SCDF. Five Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers involved in the ragging incident that led to CPL Kok’s death were charged in court on Jul 25.
Muhammad Sadikin Bin Hasban
On 9 Oct, 3WO Muhammad Sadikin Bin Hasban was killed by a falling branch when supervising contractors carrying out maintenance work at a helicopter evacuation site.
According to the MINDEF, resuscitation efforts were carried out onsite by an SAF doctor before the unconscious man was conveyed via helicopter and ambulance to Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha Hospital close to 10am, more than an hour after the accident struck. 3WO Sadikin succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead at 11:50am.
PTE Liu Kai, 22, a transport operator from the SAF’s Transport Hub West, was operating a Land Rover as part of a field training exercise when a Bionix vehicle reversed into his vehicle at around 10.10am.
The SAF Emergency Ambulance Service and the SCDF were activated at 10.17am and were on-site at 10.30am. PTE Liu succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead by the medical officers at around 10.35am.
The SCDF later filed a police report against five of its NSFs for taking and circulating a photo of the accident. The photo, which has been circulated on social media, showed the Bionix vehicle on top of a crushed Land Rover. SCDF personnel and an ambulance can be seen in the background.
28 July – An off-duty SAF regular serviceman from the SAF Medical Training Institute was found hanging from a rope in his bunk in Nee Soon Camp on. The police and the SCDF were activated by the unit, and paramedics from SCDF pronounced the serviceman dead on site at 3.06pm.
9 Sep – A full-time police NSF was pronounced dead, 6 days after he was found with a gunshot wound to his head. The 23-year-old serviceman reported for duty at Protective Security Command along Ulu Pandan Road and drew his service revolver. He was later found with a gunshot wound to his head at 3.20pm during his break. His service revolver was next to him.
28 Sep – A full-time NSF was found hanged in his office at Sembawang Air Base at 8.22am in an apparent suicide. The NSF was a transport operator from 706 Squadron.
The “Zero training deaths” goal vs reality
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen has said that the SAF saw about one NS training related death annually over the last 20 years with no training related NS deaths between 2013 and 2016.
Looking at the number of mishaps in 2018 alone, the goal of meeting “zero training deaths” has thoroughly failed. While suicides in the armed forces and home team are largely a private affair and undoubtedly a tragic episode, training deaths are very much preventable. The high profile incidents in 2018 have brought home.
The prevalence of ragging in the SCDF despite it being illegal raises serious questions of whether safety protocols are being enforced on the ground and whether commanders responsible for enforcing these protocols are actually complicit in these violations themselves.
Whichever way you look at it, 2018 was a difficult year for the SAF and Home Team. Long-held assumptions were challenged, tough questions were asked, and tragic lessons learned. Entering into 2019, the SAF and Home Team will face a daunting task to restore confidence in the public. Empty platitudes like “one death is one too many” will not suffice. Concrete steps will have to be taken, whether it’s an overhaul of training protocol and on-the-ground enforcement or transparency of the investigation process.