Mr. Leslie Koh contends that there is a trade-off between safety and realistic training (Safety Comes First, But At A Price, November 18, 2012); he asserts, “strict safety standards may not be practical and may fail to make army training realistic”. I disagree.
Safety protocols have been established and designed for good reason, and I am glad that the Ministry of Defence have decided to name and shame the conducting officers who have disregarded these directives. These procedures – I trust – are reviewed constantly, to make sure that the competencies of soldiers are not compromised. I will argue that the oft-cited notion of “realism” is simply a convenient excuse for commanders to relish in the comforts of their status quo, because putting more rigorous safety mechanisms in place – especially during field exercises – takes additional time and effort.
More significantly, who defines “realism” anyway? An overwhelming majority of the commanders in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) have little to no experience in a real conflict or war, so when they speak of “realism”, what exactly are they alluding to? The “real thing”? More often than not, these individuals in-charge would draw from their personal training experiences, with the presumption that those methodologies are “realistic”. How many of them are adequately cognisant of the boundaries that have been prescribed by the central command, or is there too much reliance upon “word-of-mouth”? I am sceptical.
Hence, training safety is my first bottom-line for all national servicemen. Drawing from my personal experiences, the consistent focus on safety has not compromised training standards or outcomes. I am not sure if I will ever muster the courage to put a bullet through someone (here), but this is something – I reckon – no simulation, within two years, would prepare me for. Yet if my unit wants me to draw my weapon and equipment to execute a mission now, I would have no issue picking up my Alice pack to head out right away.
Like Mr. Koh, the “do anything but just don’t get caught” maxim was part of our National Service experience; however, we only adhered to it when it came to administrative bureaucracies or pedantic regimental activities within units. Never in training, or when we were out on surveillance exercises in the field. We never took the easy way out in a reckless or irresponsible way, because we knew that we were not only accountable to ourselves and to our families, but also to our commanders. Naturally, we expect our commanders to have the same respect for our safety as we do for theirs.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.