Just 10 days after turning 19, full-time national serviceman Dave Lee Han Xuan died in hospital on Monday after being warded for heatstroke following an alleged series of safety lapses.
Private Lee was admitted to Changi General Hospital on Apr 18 after completing an 8km fast march at Bedok Camp, when he showed signs of distress and heat injury. According to the statement by Ministry of Defence, a medic attended to Lee immediately to bring down his core temperature and he was evacuated to the camp’s medical center for further treatment before being conveyed to the hospital.
Warded in intensive care unit, his condition took a turn for the worse during the hospitalization. PTE Lee was pronounced dead at 5:32pm on Monday.
“I want to bring this to light”
The teen’s death could have been easily prevented, according to a man who claimed to be from PTE Lee’s battalion. In a viral Facebook post that has since been republished by Lee’s aunt, the man detailed the events that allegedly led to Lee’s death, accusing the commanders in charge of incompetence, insensitivity, and sadism. Here is what he wrote, edited for clarity.
I am a soldier from 1 guards. One of our fellow soldiers is currently in critical condition heat stroke (possibly brain dead) due to the reckless behavior of my fellow commanders. I want to bring this to light so that the commanders involved are duly punished and nothing gets hidden as part of the investigation. Dave is still in critical condition in the hospital, and it has almost been one week since the incident. But there have been rumors that his condition is worsening.
The night before a 8km fast march (an activity considered high key) our entire recce platoon was turned out after lights out by our sergeants, forcing us to bear crawl to the (Standard Obstacle Course) grounds at Bedok camp, doing their usual tekan (punishment) of making us roll in the sand and have water poured on us, to satisfy their own sadistic pleasure. As a result, we did not have the adequate seven hours of rest mandated by the training safety regulations required for our fast march the next day.
Commanders forcing trainees
During the fast march, Dave struggled to complete his fast march and was dragged by senior commanders, forcing him to finish the fast march even though he was showing signs of extreme physical exhaustion. Dave collapsed after collecting his timing chip at our company line. We saw Dave breathing frantically, going through delirium, with his tongue out and only the white in his eyes visible. He was not articulate.
Inability of commanders to spot heat exhaustion
It was obvious that even to an untrained soldier, especially commanders who went to Officer Cadet School or Specialist Cadet School, that Dave was going through heat exhaustion or even heat stroke. Yet they still acted as though there was nothing severe or that he could even be acting keng (feigning sickness).
Non-administering of ice packs/body cooling unit/water mist
The commanders did not follow the proper protocol for a soldier in heat exhaustion. His cloths were not removed; no ice packs were placed at the vital heat dissapation points in his body and the medic was even blur not knowing what to do. The safety officer was nowhere to be found during this whole time and the commanders left his body under the hot sun instead of bringing it to a shaded area. It took them almost 30 minutes to an hour before they even stretched him away to the medical center before he was even transported to a hospital using the military ambulance.
Lack of seriousness towards the incident
To add insult to injury, the sergeants were just surrounding him, talking cock and laughing and cracking jokes around him, obviously thinking the soldier is trying to keng. I hope SGT Justin, Ren Zong, Nich, Ren Jie and Jonas is punished for this. I really hope the army thoroughly investigates this incident and punishes the people involved. There’s no point doing lip service to “safety” by adding it as a core value when safety is not given heed.
If anything happens to him, I believe it is the fault of the commanders who did not know even how to administer the proper procedure for heat stroke, wasting vital time before his temperature reached 42°C. As well as commanders who don’t understand the seriousness of uninterrupted rest that is required as per training safety regulations, especially for high key activities.
Lee’s aunt, Cecilia Yeo, has become the central figure from his family to publicly call out SAF for a clear explanation behind the teen’s death. In a Facebook post that republished the anecdote, she stated that her nephew “deserves the truth to be told”.
“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,” she wrote. “I hope you share our pain and support that SAF must release full investigation and identity of all culprits to the public.”
Speaking to TODAY, one of PTE Lee’s cousins also hoped that SAF would clear things up for the family.
“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.”
A posthumous promotion
In a statement released yesterday, Singapore Armed Force (SAF) Chief of Staff Brigadier-General Siew Kum Wong assured that Lee will be given a “dignified send-off” to honor his memory.
For his service, the dead soldier will be given a military funeral and will be accorded posthumous recognition of rank of Corporal First Class (CFC). He will also be awarded the Guards and RECON military tabs as well as the Guards beret.
A nice gesture, but one that won’t satisfy the mourning family’s queries. BG Siew stated that an independent Committee of Inquiry — with full powers and access — will conduct investigations into the tragedy. Personnel responsible for any training safety violations will be held accountable as well.