Putting Dave Lee, a Singapore Son to Rest

The circumstances leading up to First Class Corporal Dave Lee’s death on 30 Apr were finally revealed in Parliament today.

When we first heard the news, there were unconfirmed accounts that Dave’s commanders had shown “reckless behaviour”, forcing him to complete the fast march even though he was showing signs of extreme physical exhaustion, and proper assistance had not been offered when he was unwell.

You can read Minister Ng’s full statement online, but we picked out the key points for you.

Looks like there was some truth in these “unconfirmed accounts” after all.

  • Breach of the Army’s Training Safety Regulations. During a regular running session, Dave and his company of NSFs were given insufficient rest time between each round of running, as the commanders had wanted to “enhance fitness and foster greater cohesion” by ensuring that the platoon ran at the same pace, rather than in groups.

 

  • Unauthorised punishment, which led to insufficient rest for the platoon. A collective punishment was meted out on Dave’s platoon that night for perceived lack of teamwork and the use of mobile phones after lights out. This punishment was not authorised, and the commanders also did not inform their superiors. This resulted in Dave and his platoon getting nearly less than an hour of sleep more than required for a fast march the next day

 

  • Inadequate medical assistance. During the last 2KM of the fast march, Dave had cramps in calf muscles. His commanders advised him to stretch his calf muscles and “encouraged him to complete the march”. Shortly after, he became disoriented. The medical officers on ground attending to Dave mistook the symptoms he exhibited as physical exhaustion, not heat injury. They had never encountered any past cases of heat injury themselves. As a result, there was a delay in deciding to evacuate him to the medical centre. Again, medical officers there took some time in deciding to send him to Changi General Hospital after Dave did not respond to treatment.
  • From heat injury to heat stroke. The COI found that the “significant gap” between the onset of symptoms and evacuation could have “escalated the heat injury to a heat stroke”. Dave eventually passed away 12 days later.

 

Sad. Really sad.

To me though, the most damming of all was less so the tekan session, or 1-hour less rest time – but the inadequacy of the medical assistance rendered to Dave. Because this tells me Dave could have been saved, but instead he died, because some people were inexperienced, had textbook knowledge only, or delayed making crucial decisions in what was literally a life-and-death situation.

The COI flagged out 3 areas of improvement:

  • For commanders to strengthen their knowledge on heat injuries and decision-making processes
  • For medical officers to exercise their professional authority when dealing with medical issues
  • For commanders to watch out for soldiers

Some may say it is too little, too late. Perhaps it is.  Dave is already gone. BUT Dave’s death must be made meaningful.T

We must do everything possible to prevent a similar incident from robbing us of another Singaporean son.

Following every NSF’s death, there are always calls particularly by worried parents for the army to be less strenuous, to ban tekan sessions, so on and so forth. We always hear of stories of commanders who go crazy on their power trips in “abusing” the platoon. And commanders like these should be duly punished.

But let us remember that calling for the army to be less “siong” isn’t the real solution.

Army was never meant to be a holiday, because war is never a holiday. In recent times, thankfully, we have not been in a situation where we or our children had to give our lives for our country. The safest thing we can do for our sons right now is to prepare them as adequately as possible for such a scenario.

To all parents who have sent any son or daughter out in service, thank you. And to our servicemen and women, thank you and #staysafe.