2 deaths, 7 suspensions, 3 new safety initiatives

Defence Minister says SAF, Mindef are'deeply sorry for safety lapses during NS training. The two deaths: 3rd Sgt Tan Mou Sheng, 20 (L) and Pte Dominique Lee, 21.

SINGAPORE - How can?

Despite training regulations, six grenades were used in a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) training area when only two should have been used. Private Dominique Sarron Lee died as a result in April.

And in May, a military jeep driven by a soldier who is not licensed to drive flipped during training, crushing Third Sergeant Tan Mou Sheng, 20.

Sgt Tan and another rear seat passenger of the jeep also did not use their lap belts and military helmets.

Investigations revealed it was not the only time unlicensed drivers took control of jeeps. They were, in national service (NS) parlance, major screw-ups.

Since its introduction in 1967, NS has not only been a cornerstone of our defence strategy, it has also been the rite of passage for males here.

For boys to be men, training has to be tough and realistic. But safety has to be a bigger concern because these boys are conscripts, entrusted by their parents.

On Wednesday, Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen said in Parliament that in both cases, the deaths could have been prevented.

In both cases, the separate Committees of Inquiry found safe practices were not applied.

There are now 40,000 full-time national servicemen (NSFs), and about 180,000 NSmen go for in-camp training for a few days to a few weeks yearly.

Dr Ng said on average, there have been two training-related deaths a year involving NSmen over the last decade. Safety regimes pre-existed every death, but they are useful only when applied.

But no matter how many new safety regulations, procedures or routines are put in place, these protocols alone are not enough to ensure that future casualties will not happen.

All it takes is for someone to ignore just one, and someone else gets hurt.

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