As an NSman with experience with two different operational units spread over a decade, I have had the opportunity to interact with different batches of regular and reservist NSmen in different military settings and learnt much (good and bad) from them.
That is why I read and heard with concern regarding Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen’s statement in Parliament today regarding the Committe of Inquiry findings from actor Aloysius Pang’s in-camp training death in Jan 2019.
As more was revealed regarding the circumstances of Pang’s death, I found myself being familiar with the attitudes leading to the unfortunate death.
Three pertinent points come to mind:
1) A “switched-off” reservist mindset must change
Based on my observations, many NSmen have a mindset that is switched-off. Reservists tend to treat in-camp training periods as a break from their regular work and hence strive to expend as little energy as possible and complete a task as quickly as possible. Corners are regularly cut with a “nothing will happen” mindset. All involved in military exercises must understand that shit does happen. Lives can be lost from simple things like misfiring a weapon you thought had no ammunition or disregarding areas of danger.
2) Training under stress is needed
Stress brings out the best and worst in us when lives are at stake. We have read of heroic actions by members of public who have saved lives because they were able to control their own panic. Unfortunately, in the case of Aloysius Pang, we saw how panic can lead to irrational actions like trying to stop the mechanical gun barrel of a tank with bare hands when emergency stop buttons were the logical option. Training must be emphasised not just in military manoeuvres, but also basic safety protocols like pressing emergency stop buttons. Training until reactions become second nature will help mitigate negative effects during genuine emergency situations.
3) Follow instructions, soldier
When regular soldiers, reservist soldiers and full-time national service soldiers are grouped together, the dynamics can became strange. For example, the regular soldier may be in charge based on designation and rank but the reservist may have other ideas about following instructions. If an instruction or command to get out of the way of harm does not register, it is a sign that the command structure needs to be enforced more stringently.
All these dominoes lined up in a perfect storm in the unfortunate death of Aloysius Pang. I hope subsequent generations of soldiers will learn from it because all the protocols and regulations in the armed forces are often a result of lessons learnt from blood shed and lives lost.
*Above post contributed by a reader*