SAF adds 'safety' to its list of core values

SOLDIERS in the Singapore military will have to pledge to uphold "safety" as one of their core values in a move introduced following a spate of deadly training accidents.

The change comes amid other measures designed to deal with the problem, such as an increase in the number of full-time safety officers sent to ground units.

Troops already have to pledge every day to uphold seven attributes - loyalty to country; leadership; discipline; professionalism; ethics; fighting spirit; care for soldiers. "Safety" has now been added to the list. The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) yesterday confirmed the move, which represents the first change to the core values since they were introduced in 1996.

Brigadier-General Mark Tan Ming Yiak, the SAF's Chief of Staff-Joint Staff, said top brass had been discussing whether to include staying safe as a core value over the past few years. "We have recently decided to do so to better reflect our continued emphasis on safety and to further strengthen the SAF's safety culture," he told The Straits Times.

But BG Tan did not elaborate on how the new value will be instilled in servicemen.

The move comes on the back of measures to make training safer after a spate of fatal accidents last year. Private Dominique Sarron Lee Rui Feng, 21, died of an allergic reaction after a platoon commander threw six smoke grenades in a training exercise when the maximum allowed is two.

Third Sergeant Tan Mou Sheng, 20, was killed when his jeep overturned. He had not belted up or worn a helmet.

A high-level body will now be set up, called the Safety and Systems Review Directorate. Reporting to the Defence Ministry's permanent secretary, it will be made up of review panels that examine training safety.

The army has also sent more full-time safety officers to its ground units, with a direct reporting line to the unit commander.

When the SAF core values were first introduced, all servicemen were issued a handbook. Posters were put up in camps and lessons using case studies were taught to communicate their meaning and importance.

Today, recruits in the Basic Military Training are still made to recite the core values at least four times a day during water parades, in which they are made to drink lots of liquid before going on a training exercise.

Defence analyst Ho Shu Huang said the latest addition to the list "embraces the reality that as capable as the SAF is, it is still a peace-time force and minimising training risks has to be a top priority".

But he added that making safety a core value could send a mixed message as it could imply a more cautious approach in its doctrine and operations. "Some might misunderstand the SAF to be inherently risk averse and therefore less militarily credible."

jermync@sph.com.sg