Challenge of finding balance between realistic and safe training

The letters by Mr Mark Rozells and Mr Edmund Khoo Kim Hock gave logical, sensible and seemingly pragmatic views regarding safety in military training (Focus on safe, realistic military training; Abuse in SAF must be a thing of the past; both published on July 9).

It may be difficult for some, especially those who have not served national service, to fully grasp and understand the importance of robust and realistic training and, at the same time, not allow personal safety to be compromised.

This can indeed be a very challenging conundrum for any training instructor on the ground.

In this regard, the views of Dr Yik Keng Yeong may not be wholly off-tangent (Necessary for military training to be tough; July 5).

No instruction manual can be the panacea for the commander on the ground to make an informed decision, especially during robust training to test the mental resilience, teamwork and competence of the trainees.

Let us take a simple case study: Assume cadets at the Safti Military Institute are undergoing defence and attack training in the evening and it is raining heavily, with loud thunder and lightning.

Should the instructor cancel the training session or continue with it? No one is really the wiser.

Based on common sense, a request to stop the training may not be entertained. But if someone is struck by lightning during the training, the instructor has to take full responsibility.

However, if the instructor postpones the training, there may not be another opportunity to redo it as the training schedule is very tight.

Who is to make the final decision? If the instructor gives the green light to continue the training, is this considered abuse?

No sensible commander would want to take unnecessary risks as there are no real incentives to doing so.

Even if all safety precautions are taken into consideration, accidents can and do happen. The national serviceman who died when his vehicle landed on its side in Australia is a case in point (NSF's death in Australia: Vehicle landed on its side; Sept 17, 2017).

We need to understand that debating such ideas on paper is easy but when one is confronted with an actual situation, it can be very trying and difficult to make a balanced decision of being realistic and ensuring the safety of all personnel. That is the main issue.

Tan Teck Huat

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2018, with the headline 'Challenge of finding balance between realistic and safe training'. Print Edition | Subscribe