NSF death: Training safety is a responsibility of army commanders, says Chief of Army

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SINGAPORE - Training safety is the responsibility of commanders in the army, and there will be a review of protocol at all levels to reinforce the element of safety.

Speaking to members of the media at Sungei Gedong Camp on Monday (Nov 5), army chief Brigadier-General (BG) Goh Si Hou said that any training death is one too many.

An army-wide safety timeout on training was called on Saturday (Nov 3), following the death of Corporal First Class (CFC) Liu Kai, 22.

The full-time national serviceman died after a Bionix armoured vehicle reversed into a Land Rover he was driving, while taking part in a field training exercise in the Jalan Murai training area.

This was the second Bionix-related incident in just over year in which a soldier was killed.

Third Sergeant Gavin Chan was killed during an overseas exercise in Australia in September last year, when the Bionix tank he was commanding overturned on a steep embankment.

When asked by The Straits Times how the latest incident could have happened despite tightened measures implemented following the one last year, BG Goh said: "We will need to let the investigation run its course. Training safety is not only important in one formation. It is important across all parts of our army.

"We will take this opportunity to really relook and make sure that all safety systems are in place, and not just for Bionix training."

BG Goh said that during this timeout period, safety protocol will be relooked at three levels - the soldiers, the commanders, and the system.

Soldiers will undergo rehearsals and drills once again, such as vehicle drills like reversing.

"At the trainer and commander level, make sure we have proper supervision in place to ensure safety on the ground," he said.

At the wider system level, the army will review high-risk training to ensure that safety systems are in place.

"Ultimately, safety is a commander's responsibility in our army. Safety of our soldiers is my top-most priority as Chief of Army."

BG Goh added that the timeout applied not just for local training, but for overseas training as well, including Exercise Trident, which is taking place in Freshwater Bay in Rockhampton, Queensland.

The timeout will be lifted and training allowed to continue only when "all the reviews and rehearsals are in place".

BG Goh visited CFC Liu's wake earlier in the day, and expressed his condolences to the family.

"I also shared with the family that Liu Kai will be remembered as a good soldier who served with pride, and his commanders remember him well for his dedication and commitment in service. I must add that he was well-liked and well-respected by his peers for his positive attitude, and was always willing to help out his fellow soldiers," he said.

He added that the army would help CFC Liu's family as best as it could in this time of grief. "We want to give our soldier a dignified send-off, to honour his service to our nation and honour his memory."

BG Goh also said the police and the army are currently conducting their investigations, and asked that the public let the investigations run their course and not jump to conclusions.

He said it was "critical" for an independent Committee of Inquiry to be convened to investigate the cause of the incident, so that the facts could come to light and the right lessons could be learnt.

"This is not only to provide full accountability to his family, but also to allow us to strengthen the safety of our soldiers across the army," said BG Goh.

"We want to ensure that all our soldiers can train effectively and safely, and this is a commitment from all my commanders."

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