Safety review should include culture change from ground up

No amount of policy change and no number of safety pauses will effect any difference if training in the field is carried out as it always has been.
No amount of policy change and no number of safety pauses will effect any difference if training in the field is carried out as it always has been.PHOTO: ST FILE

Almost every Singaporean recognises the importance of a strong and credible defence force.

The recent spat with Malaysia over maritime and aeronautical boundaries is a clear reminder of this.

Consequently, the nation's conscript army and reservist force are essential, for they ensure this continued strength of the country's defence amid uncertain times.

Having served as a ground commander of a combat unit during my national service, I am cognisant of how difficult it can be to find a balance between delivering rigorous training and ensuring the safety of servicemen.

The prevention of tragic incidents such as the recent one during Exercise Thunder Warrior requires a willingness to embrace change from the ground up.

No amount of policy change and no number of safety pauses will effect any difference if training in the field is carried out as it always has been (SAF reduces training for safety review; Jan 25).

It is imperative commanders remember that they ultimately serve to protect and defend the nation, not to protect the historical traditions of a unit or to ensure adherence to regimentation and hierarchy.

Guaranteeing the safety of servicemen is of paramount importance, and this includes ensuring the proficiency of their men within their respective roles, strict adherence to training safety regulations and directives, and being open to feedback from those under their charge, regardless of their vocation or rank.

Similarly, in its review of the army's training practices during the safety timeout, Singapore Armed Forces leaders must obtain feedback not just from their commanders, but both full-time and operationally ready national servicemen on the ground.

This is especially important in the military, which is an organisation that is both steeped in tradition and has a rigid hierarchical structure.

To send a clear signal, command staff and policymakers should explicitly link the promotions and incentives of ground commanders to training safety, and not just physical fitness and operational and domain proficiency, as has traditionally been done.

We should never take for granted the NSFs and hundreds of thousands more men whose civilian lives take a hiatus for several weeks every year, as they don their uniforms and defend the nation in a myriad of capacities.

Every safety incident is a call for a change from the ground up, for every life lost or damaged is one too many.

Collin Ho (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2019, with the headline 'Safety review should include culture change from ground up'. Print Edition | Subscribe