Former Guardsman claims superiors deliberately overworked NSFs who were unwell amid allegations surrounding recent NSF death

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The untimely death of Private (PTE) Lee Han Xuan Dave gripped headlines after the Ministry of Defense revealed that the 19-year-old passed away on Monday. PTE Lee died after being kept for 12 days in the Intensive Care Unit at Changi General Hospital, where he was admitted after he collapsed due to heat exhaustion following an 8km fast march in Bedok Camp.

The family members of PTE Lee are demanding that the authorities release a full, public explanation of what happened to PTE Lee, after a letter by an anonymous soldier detailing what allegedly happened that night began circulating online.

The author of the viral letter claims that Lee was “forced” to complete the fast march even though he showed clear signs of severe heat exhaustion. The alleged soldier also claimed that “the commanders did not follow the proper protocol for a soldier in heat exhaution” and “to add insult to injury, the sergeants were just surrounding him, talking cock and laughing and cracking jokes around him, obviously thinking the soldier is trying to keng.”

Another netizen, Facebook user Joel Goh, asserted that he “completely believed” the allegations made in the anonymous letter based on his experiences in the Singapore Armed Forces.

Goh, who served as a Guardsman during his time in National Service, said that he had the same experience while he served as an NSF. Goh alleged that NSFs posted to the Guards who are genuinely ill received less rest than those who were not ill, as their superiors believe they were just malingering to get out of doing work.

These superiors, sergeants who are usually barely a year older than their charges, not only forced the sick to participate in strenuous activities and worsen their conditions, they also treated their charges with extreme derision, according to Goh.

Goh wrote that what started as a fever during his time as an NSF became a painful knee cartilage tear after he was forced to carry a heavy metal boat by hand with three others who were also sick.

Despite receiving a hospital certificate that showed that he had torn his meniscus and even though he experienced great pain with even the smallest steps, Goh allegedly “had to participate in change parades (which we understood to be illegal in the SAF) — “tekan” sessions in which we had to run up and down the stairs repeatedly to change into different attires in quick succession.”

Not only that, Goh “had to do a 1km march in the jungle in full battle order, which means trekking through uneven ground while carrying a huge heavy bag, rifle, etc. I had to participate in an enplaning and deplaning exercise on a helicopter, which involved running through the jungle to board and disembark from a helicopter. I had to “help out” everyday BEFORE AND AFTER these exercises because I was part of the “chao keng” gang who were the resources the army uses to do all the “sai kang” (shit work).”

He added: “Among other things, I had to climb steep hills in the Western Catchment Area to plant target boards for a live firing exercise. This meant waking up way earlier than the rest of the platoon to set up those targets, attending the entire live firing exercise with them, and then staying back to remove those target boards long after the rest of the platoon had gone back to sleep.”

Adding that the Medical Officer also treated the NSFs poorly, Goh shared further details of how poorly Guardsmen who were unwell were treated: “Every week, when the platoon was granted the incentive of having a nights off (an evening out from camp during the week), we were told we could not go because we “did not contribute to the platoon”. When we booked out from camp on weekends, we had to book in on Sunday, earlier than the rest of the Platoon, because we were “needed” to help out with administrative tasks – the sergeants made us clean their own offices for them. We were basically the clowns of the platoon.”

Read his post in full here:

There is a post going around about the Guardsman who just died (https://www.facebook.com/cecilia.yeo.165/posts/10156682082464276), and the gross mismanagement involved in his unfortunate demise. From my own time in Guards, I completely believe its contents.

It’s been many years since my stint in the army, and I’ve refrained from talking about this publicly. But reading the post makes me so angry because, while my own experience never reached such an unfortunate result, I had the same experience in Guards. I know there are many good people in Guards, especially at the higher echelons, but it seems like things on the ground have not changed.

The thing about Guards and perhaps other formations is that they are ruled on the ground by kids — 19/20 year old sergeants who are barely a year older than the men they command. Give these boys a little power, and they get drunk with it. Without proper supervision and discipline, things will get out of hand. These are the people I once overheard saying among themselves, “Honestly ah, I hope we can have war soon. We already train so hard ah, I really hope got war, so we can put what we learn to use leh”.

This was my personal experience: It all started with just a fever. I had a fever and had to rest in the bunk on “light duties only” status. Guys on “light duties only” status were required to help with administrative tasks. That may be understandable. But do you know what I had to do that day? Carry a very heavy METAL boat, by hand, with 3 other people who were unwell. It was a boat which could sit 6 men, I think. My superiors knew I was having a fever. While carrying that damn boat, in my feverish state, I twisted my leg and got a meniscus tear in the knee. I got a hospital certificate for my meniscus tear, and awaited a medical board review of my PES status. All my superiors knew about my situation, but everyone talked about it as if I just “chao keng” (malingered). Everything in Guards is just “chao keng”. Even when you have a medically certified meniscus tear which gives you a sharp pain in the knee with every single step you take. There were a few other guys in a similar situation as me in my platoon. To our superiors, all of us were just “chao keng”. One of my platoon mates went to see the Medical Officer, Doctor Malcolm Tan (a man I shall never forget) for a diagnosis for night blindness. He told my platoon mate to “fuck off”. I completely believe my platoon mate. I myself had been told by Dr Malcolm Tan to “get out of [his] room!” once when I gave him a medical certificate to endorse. I instinctively left the room. Then I immediately turned around, knocked the door, and went in again. I asked him if he will take personal responsibility if anything happened to me during the period covered by my MC. He stared at me as if I was asking for a slice of his liver. He snatched my MC, endorsed it, and threw it on the floor. “Take it and get out of my sight”, he said.

But I digress. During the period I had a meniscus tear, I continued to be required to do most of the things the rest of the platoon did. My superiors said that this was because my PES status was under review and hadn’t changed yet. With a torn meniscus, I had to participate in change parades (which we understood to be illegal in the SAF) — “tekan” sessions in which we had to run up and down the stairs repeatedly to change into different attires in quick succession. I had to do a 1km march in the jungle in full battle order, which means trekking through uneven ground while carrying a huge heavy bag, rifle, etc. I had to participate in an enplaning and deplaning exercise on a helicopter, which involved running through the jungle to board and disembark from a helicopter. I had to “help out” everyday BEFORE AND AFTER these exercises because I was part of the “chao keng” gang who were the resources the army uses to do all the “sai kang” (shit work). Among other things, I had to climb steep hills in the Western Catchment Area to plant target boards for a live firing exercise. This meant waking up way earlier than the rest of the platoon to set up those targets, attending the entire live firing exercise with them, and then staying back to remove those target boards long after the rest of the platoon had gone back to sleep. The people who are unwell in Guards are the people who end up getting the least rest.

All that horrendous mismanagement aside, the sergeants made special effort to strip us of our dignity. We were made to clear the rubbish bins everyday. Once, while walking up the stairs, a sergeant ate a sweet and threw the wrapper IN MY FACE, saying “you guys throw our rubbish for us everyday anyway HAHAHA” and walked away. The sergeants made every medical condition sound like a joke, always insinuating that they were all just a pretence, or that we were weak, or that we were somehow lacking in masculinity. We were called countless names. Every week, when the platoon was granted the incentive of having a nights off (an evening out from camp during the week), we were told we could not go because we “did not contribute to the platoon”. When we booked out from camp on weekends, we had to book in on Sunday, earlier than the rest of the Platoon, because we were “needed” to help out with administrative tasks – the sergeants made us clean their own offices for them. We were basically the clowns of the platoon. Of course if all this happened to me now, I would say a big Fuck Off to those people. But when you are 18 years old, compelled by the force of the State to serve, and repeatedly reminded that you will be sent to the Detention Barracks for insubordination if you even tried, the only thing you do is bite your tongue and say “Yes, Sergeant”.

Ours is a conscription army — none of us ever had a choice whether to serve or not. I had enlisted at BMTC with reservations about NS. My short stint at Guards left me without a doubt as to what I feel towards this institution (regardless of my thoughts on its necessity). Thankfully, I got posted out from Guards after those few months, but the experience I described above is not something one can forget. Many friends talk about their NS experience in positive terms. I usually just keep silent whenever they do that — it’s impossible to explain why I hated NS without sounding like a petty or lazy person, unless I go the whole way to explain the full extent of the injustice and indignity I had to experience in those months. In our alpha male culture engendered by NS, complaining about NS is often derided as inadequacy of some sort. I have no doubt that those friends of mine had a positive experience in NS, especially if they were officers. I’ve attended commission parades before and was amazed at how much pomp is involved and how much resources are expended just to dignify their status. It’s ridiculous how different our experiences have to be — at the end of the day, aren’t we all just here to serve our country?

There is a post going around about the Guardsman who just died…

Posted by Joel Goh on Monday, 30 April 2018

90 COMMENTS

  1. Through the years, we bestowed fanciful names on our servicemen and women. Such as Specialists, Military Experts, Commanders etc. But what is more important then fanciful names are the right values such as Honour, Integrity, Compassion. Without these values we are nothing more than armed savages with a weapon.

  2. The minister in charge is enjoying his millions dollars of tax payer money no time to look into it all this have been happening since NS started i think the minister need to resign and answer to the family members of the dead Guardsman.

    • The SAF of today is different from from the first 25 years…..this accident could have been easily prevented if someone just step in and pull Pte Dave off the fast March with rest, hydration and straight to the medical center. Is the case of SAF complacency here, 1st Guards commanders present that day have no trust in their soldier they trained and have to resort to such a dirty act to strip Pte Dave Lee his dignity and pride…..

  3. Please when our sons enlist for NS please ensure no harm ill treatment and bullying come to them they are suppose to fight for the country no torture to dead by all the stupid training they have to go through I didn’t let my son enlist for ns to die before there is even a war

  4. Countries like Malaysia, Taiwan, India, etc etc may not bother about such casualties in the army. But Singapore with such a small pool of able-bodied young men, even one death is one too many. But over the years there were at least a dozen such needless deaths due to insensitive superiors. With this latest death on the 50th anniversary of NS I hope it will wake the government up to look into the allegations of all these insensitive superiors who are quick to push aside claims of being unwell as malingering. These whistle blowers definitely have brought up something that is why happening day and day out under the very nose of the various commanders. Or are these tekan being condoned? Surely there is so much to do to prevent another similar tragedy.

  5. My deepest condolence to Dave Lee’s family. I really hope SAF launch a full investigation and punish the culprits.
    I experienced that same kind harsh & unfair treatment from my Superiors when i was in 3rd Guards 30 years ago. Backed then Social Media wasn’t there but I guessed Abused by Superior in Army still exist.
    As we’ll know that in Army there are always MC King, Blur King, Keng King & Sabo King etc
    But there are some just unfortunate one that just 八字不合 with their superior and they are “marked” for 2 years of their service.
    I was one of them whom 八字不合 with a corporal named Soh of another “section” and i not sure what “bad tale” he told my platoon Sergeant whom in return told my company OC
    It become a “chain reaction” and i was targeted & “marked” for the first 9 months till my Guard Conversion course by the Trio.
    They even proudly proclaimed that why will send me to Detention Barrack “Jail in Army term” during my 2 years services.
    It was like a living hell as i am always getting extra duty, “running extra round” compared to rest of my company mate, forced to carry heavy thing even when i was supposed to “rest at Bunk” certified by the Army Medical Doctor etc. It became a “personal attack” & even my own section Corporal or Platoon Commander whom are “nicer people” but doesn’t/wouldn’t/couldn’t stop the abuse.
    Things changed after my Guard conversion course when i was diagnosed with a bad leg injury. The Medical Doctor “a Captain” recommend a downgrade PES C.
    Even thou my company OC a lieutenant went all the way to the clinic to questioned the Medical Officer why did he downgrade my status but was scolded by The MO whom was angry why is my OC doubting his professional medical view & why A lieutenant is questioning him, A Captain !
    Since then i was posted to Guard HQ and i was treated with respect from my new Superiors from my corporal all the way to my new OC. Same ranks ….nicer human being i guess !
    Now that i am in my 50, i have never met my 3rd Guard’s Corporal, Sergeant or OC …the TRIO on the street. If opportunity allow, i would like to ask them what wrong i have done as ” I didn’t killed or robbed your family or parents so why do u have to marked and tortured someone for 9 months. After all we are in the Army to served the country …why all the “personal attack” on an individual who are “someone else” beloved children.

  6. Many commanders of yesteryears and till now think they know far too well. Too bad that when things go wrong none has the balls to admit when things go wrong. The usual scapegoats will be the junior instructors, platoon mates or the buddy. Commanders usually punish the lower ranks just to close the matters and to abaolve themselves from the issues.

  7. All sorts of craps from saf be it physical or other like super glue their rifle tip so cannot do zeroing have to manual compensate when fire rifle in range… suicide is common in the past. Till block off roof access ..No diff from China foxcon use nets.

  8. Fully agreed. Once my son had a hair line fracture in his foot. When he was refferred to NUH the army doctor (LTC) said he will be charged for maligering. We took a 2md opinion from a NUH feet specialist and he was treated for the hair line fracture and a cast. So much for army doctors.