Army training to resume in Singapore and Australia from Nov 8 after safety timeout

Soldiers practising the emplaning and deplaning drill, demonstrating the procedures to follow when they exit the helicopter, as part of the annual Exercise Wallaby in Rockhampton, Australia. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

ROCKHAMPTON (Queensland) - The Singapore soldiers rushed into a mock-up of a Chinook helicopter, and rehearsed how to brace for impact in an emergency landing.

Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) troops taking part in Exercise Wallaby in Australia have been doing such rehearsals instead of urban operations training after a timeout on training was called to relook safety protocol across the army in the wake of a death last Saturday (Nov 3).

Full-time national serviceman Liu Kai, 22, was killed in a training incident in Jalan Murai when a Bionix vehicle reversed into the Land Rover he was operating.

But army training will progressively resume for the Singapore troops at Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Rockhampton as well as troops in Singapore on Thursday, the Singapore Army said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

The soldiers in Australia are taking part in Exercise Trident, the signature tri-service exercise between SAF and the Australian Defence Force taking place from Oct 31 to Nov 14.

It is the third and final phase of Exercise Wallaby, the SAF's largest overseas training exercise involving more than 3,800 personnel which began in September.

Colonel Xu You Feng, frame commander for Exercise Trident and commander of the 7th Singapore Infantry Brigade, said the timeout was a "sobering reminder" of the importance of the SAF's training safety framework.

He said that during the timeout, commanders reviewed all safety management plans, focusing on high-risk training activities such as helicopter operations, ship-to-shore operations and driving, as well as things like heat injuries.

"I was assured that all our plans in place were adequate and robust," Colonel Xu told reporters in a briefing on Tuesday at Camp Growl in Rockhampton, where SAF troops are based.

"We remain confident of our training safety and would not let incidents like these hold us back from conducting tough and realistic training, albeit in a safe way. So when Trident resumes... you won't find us walking on eggshells," he added.

A new measure suggested during the timeout now being tried out is the use of improvised mud-guards by attaching sandbags to the back of vehicles' wheels.

This minimises dust clouds formed by vehicle movement - a unique challenge when driving on dusty roads in Shoalwater Bay, said Col Xu.

Among the other safety measures in place for the exercise was a simplified process for evacuation introduced across the SAF since August this year.

Medics and commanders who are not medically trained can make the call to evacuate personnel should the casualty fail to answer any one of three questions on identity, where they are and the time of day, said medical officer, Captain (Dr) Jeriel Tan.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen announced this new training safety regulation in Parliament in August following the death of Corporal First Class Dave Lee due to heat stroke in April. It was one of the measures introduced to help the SAF tackle heat injury cases.

Medics also undergo emergency drills and rehearsals daily at Camp Growl, such as how to handle allergies or traumatic injuries.

A Super Puma helicopter is stationed at the camp for the duration of the exercise should the need for evacuation to Rockhampton Hospital arises.

The highlight of Exercise Trident will feature Singapore and Australian troops storming a beach in an amphibious attack this coming Saturday.

Asked about the morale of the troops in Australia, Col Xu said: "My assessment is that the soldiers here are confident that everything is in place... In fact...they have a lot of restless energy - they can't wait for training to get restarted."

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