Sunday, June 15, 2008

One Death Too Many

On 12 June, I went to my Army Unit HQ to receive my letter of congratulations for my promotion to Captain. On the way to the HQ, over the radio news, Mindef has announced to impose "time-off" for strenuous exercises for the reason that two NS soldiers have died within a week. My heart sunken then.

It was supposed to be a small happy event at HQ but it turned out that our Commander has to give a short, painful speech on how the two incidents occur and all efforts have been made to save their lives but failed.

I was thinking on my way back about the whole incident and what my Commander has said, "One Death Too many..". As my promotion now will put on me greater responsibility with more soldiers under my charge and command, I begin to worry: If anything like this happen to my men under my charge, what will I do? I believe no commanders will want anything bad to happen to their men. Its not just about taking the formal responsibility over our men within the framework of the Army, but also the personal responsibility to the men's family members; spouses, children, parents....etc.

In any ICT training or military exercises, we are always taking calculated risks in one way or another. But at the end of the day, we all hope that we could finish the necessary training with all our men back in one piece. Any Death or serious injury, is really too many for us.

But there are times when we are pushed to the limits during training and we really wonder whether our men could possibly take it or not. All we hope is that our men's physical, mental and medical conditions could possibly withstand the fatigue that are imposed by the training. This is especially a big challenge to us when we are leading a group of men which may have some aged 35 years old and above.

To cut down the risk of casualty due to medical problems, the only feasible way is to have due diligence in our military medical screening for all soldiers. The question of whether our military medical screening should provide heart screening for possible heart problems was being raised in the past few days. This is in direct response over the possibility of cardiac arrest being the cause of the two deaths we have seen for the past week. One of the consideration of whether we should have heart screening in our military medical centers is COST. It is said that such test would cost as much as $500 per test.

If we are talking about 15,000 intake of NS men per year, it may just cost $7.5 million. But this is assuming that the Army did not have its own facilities to do such tests. The defence budget each year is about $8B to $9B per year, I believe that $7.5million per year is money well spent for Singapore as a whole. One Death is One too many.

We have always been told that Singapore is very poor in natural resources and we depend very much on human resources as survival. To have casualties during any peace time army training would mean a great loss to our nation as world. If such loss could be further minimize by investing in equipments that could spot medical conditions that could pose danger to lives, I think it is totally worth the money spent.

We owe it to our people for our defence as well as economic growth. It is about time to re-consider the needs of spending more money to safe guard the welfare of our people, especially when life and death is concerned.

It is totally unfair to put the burden of heart screening prior to enrollment into the Army on the citizens themselves. They have already made the sacrifices of their 2 years of youth and many years thereafter in terms of reservist training in contributing to the defence of our nation. It is only right for the Nation to take care of them and to provide them with adequate preventive medical screening in return.

One Death is really One too Many.

Goh Meng Seng


Ramseth said...

You said that you've been very on as a lieutenant, tekan and tekan.

Anonymous said...

Then you better tell those trainers not to force your soldiers to go for training if they want to report sick.

Ramseth said...

Captain Goh is right to tekan and tekan his men. It's nature to avoid tough exercises. If don't tekan, all act blur, take cover, report sick, how? All go one corner and relax?

All trainees and soldiers have been cleared by medical officers to be medically fit for the course or duty they're assigned to. Captain Goh may be good at arguing as a politician, but as an army captain, how can he argue with an army medical officer? He has to respect the medical clearance and assume that all assigned to combat duties are combat fit.

Anyway, Police Academy, police stations, army camps and exercises are among the safest places to be. One is more likely to be killed outside in traffic accident.

gary teoh said...

Train so hard for what.After struggle for 2 years,Uni place is taken up by foreign student. No point,we have to be selfish.No body is looking after our family, if we get killed.

Ramseth said...

Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. - J.F. Kennedy, US President (1961-63).

Anonymous said...

I agree that one death is one too many but I disagree that SAF should conduct heart screening for all enlistees.

Today, I can easily spend over $2000 on myself to go for a stress-ECG test, 2D echo scan and a MIBI scan, to find out if there's anything wrong with my heart. But even after spending so much money, there is no way to be 100% certain that I won't collapse from a sudden cardiac arrest.

Even our national youth triathele Thaddeus and the superfit Major clocking three-and-a-half hour marathons suffered that fate.

Such is life. We can minimise but we cannot guarantee. One Death is really one too many. But let's thinking that we can play god by throwing gobs of good money towards heart scans that won't assure us any better on reducing sudden cardiac arrests.

Ramseth said...

Exactly. Well said. Just do it. Talk later. Die another day.

Yoong Kheong said...

Medical Officers might need to be more empathetic towards soldiers instead of permanently rendering them as chao keng-ing...