An independent Committee of Inquiry (COI) will be convened for the late full-time national serviceman Dave Lee Han Xuan, 19, who died on Monday (April 30) after being hospitalised for heat-related injuries on April 18.
It will be chaired by a senior civil servant from outside the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). The personnel responsible will be held accountable should there be training safety violations, said Brigadier-General Siew Kum Wong, Chief of Staff - General Staff on Tuesday night (May 1).
His post on The Singapore Army Facebook page came after two aunts of Private Lee – a Guardsman from the 1st Battalion Singapore Guards – called for a “full explanation” from SAF to the public.
The Army had declared a safety timeout for all training on April 30. Training and safety management plans were reviewed to ensure all appropriate measures were in place, said BG Siew.
COIs are convened for all training-related deaths. They have full powers and access to information and personnel to investigate the circumstances leading to death, determine the contributory factors and make recommendations to rectify any lapses or inadequacies uncovered.
The committees’ work usually takes around a few months, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in Parliament in 2012.
Private Lee will be accorded posthumous recognition of the rank of Corporal First Class and be awarded the Guards and RECON military tabs, as well as the Guards beret he was training for, added BG Siew. He will be accorded a military funeral.
On Tuesday morning, Private Lee’s aunt, Ms Cecilia Yeo expressed sadness at the passing of her nephew and wrote in a Facebook post: “I am sharing this in pain but we demand full explanation from SAF to the public, who trustingly sent their children to serve the nation.”
Private Lee was found with signs of heat injury after an 8km fast march at Bedok Camp at about 8.35am on April 18. He was taken to Changi General Hospital and warded in the intensive care unit but his condition did not improve. He died at about 5.30pm on Monday.
Ms Yeo included in her post the account of a soldier who alleged “reckless behaviour” by Private Lee’s commanders.
The content of the post has been making its rounds online although the Facebook account of the unnamed soldier, who said he was from the 1st Battalion Singapore Guards, has been taken down. The soldier claimed the commanders had forced Private Lee to complete the fast march “even though he was showing signs of extreme physical exhaustion”, and had not allowed the soldiers adequate rest the night before the march.
Another of Private Lee’s aunts, Ms Michelle Yeo, shared Ms Cecilia Yeo’s post, which has gone viral.
‘A FILIAL SON’
Meanwhile, a number of guardsmen, past and present, have replaced their Facebook profile photo with that of a Guards logo set against a black ribbon, or an image of the Guards military tab.
Many netizens and friends have conveyed their condolences to the family, who shared their grief on social media and changed their Facebook profile photos with Private Lee to grayscale. His mother, Mdm Jasmine Yeo, confirmed with TODAY via Facebook that her son’s cornea had been donated but did not take other questions. “We have agreed to his organ donation but only his cornea can be donated,” said Mdm Yeo, who has an older daughter.
Mindef personnel were present at Private Lee’s wake on Tuesday afternoon.
Speaking to TODAY, one of his cousins, Mr Pong Jun Wei, 28, described him as kind and jovial. According to him, Private Lee had wanted to either sign on as an army regular or further his studies after completing his National Service.
The “good and filial son” would help his father – who suffered a leg injury in an accident – to hold his crutches and never failed to support his mother in caring for his father, said Mr Pong, an operations officer with regional airline SilkAir.
The extended family was tight-knit and often travelled overseas together. More than 50 people including family members, schoolmates and platoon mates were present at Changi General Hospital during Private Lee’s final moments, said Mr Pong.
Like Private Lee’s aunts, Mr Pong also hoped for clarity from the SAF on the matter. On his initial reaction when he heard that his cousin had been warded, he said: “We thought it is just a simple heat stroke. Having been through the army... I didn’t see it as so severe until I saw him in bed in the hospital.”
Mr Pong added: “He’s so young. Nineteen years old with a bright and long future ahead of him.”