This, after a Committee of Inquiry determined that CFC Lee died from poor treatment when he collapsed from heat stroke, and the delay in evacuating him to a proper hospital facility for treatment.
Calling the safety measures “insane”, 47-year-old Jasmine Lee said:
“I seriously don’t understand why it could even happen.”
CFC Lee died in hospital on 30 April from heat stroke leading to multiple organ injury, 12 days after he collapsed during a fast march.
The 19-year-old full-time national serviceman was the last one to complete the 8km fast march, taking about 100 minutes including a 20-minute break.
During the last 2km of the march, he had informed commanders that he was suffering cramps in his calf muscles.
At the end of the march, he was observed to be “disoriented”.
Commanders and the cover medic who attended to him stated that his pulse was normal even though his skin felt cold to the touch.
They did not take his temperature.
Others around removed CFC Lee’s equipment, unbuttoned his uniform and applied ice packs on him.
They also poured cold water on him and gave him water to drink, and gave him oxygen.
However, the COI reported that the on-site cooling measures were “inadequate” – the placement of the ice packs was improper, there was a failure to administer an on-site IV drop, and a ground sheet had been used wrongly.
Several suggestions made to have CFC Lee evacuated went unheeded as the persons tending to him mistook his condition for physical exhaustion.
CFC Lee was only evacuated when his condition didn’t improve, and he was sent to Bedok Camp Medical Centre with a temperature of 42.7 deg Celsius.
Two bags of fast IV drip were administered and CFC Lee was placed in the Body Cooling Unit for 2 cycles, but CFC Lee’s condition didn’t improve.
He was then sent to Changi General Hospital’s intensive care unit.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen reported the findings of the COI in parliament yesterday (6 Aug).
Commenting on the actions taken by those tending to CFC Lee, Dr Ng said:
“Though trained, they had never encountered any previous case of heat injury themselves.”
Dr Ng also reported the COI’s findings that “deviations” from training plans the day before CFC Lee’s collapse were a “breach of training safety regulations”.
On the afternoon of 17 April, soldiers including CFC Lee had to run six laps of 400m each.
They were grouped according to their running ability but the commanders asked the entire company to run at a common pace, as they wanted to “enhance fitness and foster greater cohesion by keeping the platoon intact”.
This meant that CFC Lee had to run at a slightly faster pace than required — about 10 seconds faster per lap — for the first three laps, before being allowed to run at his own pace for the remaining laps.
CFC Lee’s platoon also received “collective punishment”, which Dr Ng stressed was not authorised, later that night for the “perceived lack of teamwork and the use of mobile phones after lights out”.
During the tekan session, the platoon was told to fall in at 9.40pm in their Number 4 uniforms and assault bags, and were asked to perform exercises comprising of bear crawls, sprints, leopard crawls, as well as push-ups and crunches.
Troopers also had water poured over them from water bottles and jerry cans. The session ended with the troopers reciting the Guards Creed a few times in a high kneel position. The entire session lasted for about 30 to 35 minutes.
They were sent back to their bunks at about 10.25pm to wash up, and had to observe “lights out” by 10.45pm, which led to them having less sleep that night before CFC Lee’s fatal fast march the next day.
Dr Ng said that the military has since lowered the bar for safety evacuation to take the “guesswork out of the assessment” and impose “early evacuation as a default”.
Any trainee who cannot respond to simple questions on time, place and identity will be evacuated immediately for heat injury, as part of new Training Safety Regulations made effective immediately.
MINDEF is currently studying and comparing the rigour of military training in the SAF compared to other militaries