Death of NSF soldier Gavin Chan affected morale on the ground: Senior commanders
Brigadier General Mark Tan addresses reporters at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland, Australia. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)
ROCKHAMPTON, Australia: The death of 3rd Sergeant (3SG) Gavin Chan during an annual training exercise in Australia has left a mark on his fellow National Service comrades, senior commanders said."When somebody so close to you and (who) spent so many years with you was killed in an accident, naturally the soldiers in the unit were very affected," exercise director Mark Tan told reporters in a dusty clearing at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland, Australia on Sunday (Oct 8)."(This is) especially for those who were within the same Bionix vehicle and those in his platoon."Military Expert (ME) 6 Luke Goh, commander of the forward support group that provides medical assistance during the training exercise, said 3SG Chan's death made an "impact" on his fellow National Service colleagues.To that end, Brigadier General (BG) Tan added that "special arrangements" were made so that platoon mates could send off 3SG Chan's body and attend his funeral back in Singapore last month."I think that was an important form of closure for them to come together and show support for 3rd Sergeant Gavin, who was very much a treasured commander of the unit," he said.
3SG Chan was found unconscious on Sep 15 after a Bionix infantry vehicle that he was guiding out of difficult terrain landed on its side, the Ministry of Defence said.A medic tried to resucitate 3SG Chan before he was evacuated via helicopter to Rockhampton Hospital, where he died.ME6 Goh said the forward support group, whose wide-ranging responsibilities include logistics and maintenance support, was activated when the incident happened.“It was certainly important to get the casualty out to the nearest medical facility,” ME6 Goh said, adding that resources involved included a helicopter and a 24-hour standby ambulance operator.Ambulance operator Wesley Kok, 20, was on duty when the incident happened.“I prepped my vehicle and was ready to go any time,” he said. “So when I got the call, everything was loaded up and we moved off to the airfield to bring the medical officer to the helicopter to bring him to the site of the accident.”Private Kok said he took about five minutes to get from the camp to the airfield, where a helicopter was waiting to transport the medic to the scene. As it was an emergency, he was given authorisation to go beyond the speed limit for the 2km journey.The full-time National Serviceman said his parents rang him up “the day it went on the news”.“I told them I was involved in the activation, but I’m safe and nothing else happened," he said.
“I feel like it’s very unfortunate for it to happen,” he added. “I did my best to rush as fast as possible, but I think the safety measures will be revised to keep up.”
The mood grew sombre as soldiers sat side by side and recounted the incident. One army engineer regular, 31, said he was devastated for 3SG Chan’s family, especially because he had been planning on studying at university and “making the family proud”.
TRAINING RESUMED TO "INSTIL CONFIDENCE" IN SOLDIERS
But ME6 Goh said the battalion “recovered well and recovered quickly”.
Following the incident, said BG Tan, a safety pause was initiated to evaluate "what had happened and whether our safety measures were sufficient".
"Having established that, as well as the readiness and the morale of the soldiers on the ground, we were convinced that there were sufficient measures in place," added the chief guards officer.
"We have resumed training to instill confidence in the soldiers that the training they are undergoing is still safe."
Soldiers prepping a Light Strike Vehicle at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland, Australia. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)
Nevertheless, BG Tan said investigations into the cause of the incident are ongoing. "As of now, we have not made any changes to our safety regulations."
However, he stressed that safety measures are in place at "every level of the exercise design", from the planning stage back home to execution in Australia, where soldiers can train in conditions that are harsh and realistic.
"We have multiple levels of safety coverage to ensure that soldiers are watched both by their commanders as well as by the conducting headquarters," he said.
ME6 Goh added: “Of course, we endeavour to learn as much as we can because every life lost is one too many.”