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NS in S’pore having #MeToo moment with #WhoIsTheRealEnemy about NS mistreatment

Openly talking about past experiences enabled by social media and more openness about NS.

By Belmont Lay | May 3, 2018

The recent death of a full-time national serviceman has triggered a fresh bout of interest in and scrutiny on National Service requirements and safety record in Singapore.

The late Dave Lee Han Xuan, 19, had been hospitalised for heat-related injuries on April 18 but succumbed to them on Monday, April 30.

Seeking answers

Answers are being sought as to what happened, but this latest tragedy has sparked a public demand for answers led by Dave’s aunt.

She shared a widely-circulated message containing unverified allegations about what happened to her nephew, which was supposedly written by a fellow soldier.

She even used the hashtag, #WhoIsTheRealEnemy, a likely reference to the belief that there are people to be held responsible for what happened.

Lee’s immediate family, though, has appeared more sanguine before the press.

Demand for accountability

The demand for answers in the aftermath of an untimely NSF death is not new.

It is also not unique for the loved ones of the fallen soldier to put forth calls for more accountability, even after the matter has been considered closed and dealt with.

This was apparent in the aftermath of the 2012 death of an NSF, Dominique Sarron Lee, from smoke inhalation, with the mother of the fallen soldier still not finding closure in 2016:

Mother pens letter to late son who died during National Service in 2012 for failing him

Talking about the past

While previous incidents have sparked public outrage and calls for better safety standards to ensure training deaths do not occur again, the aftermath of this most recent event has taken another turn: More NSmen are coming forward with their own negative experiences during NS and allegations of mistreatment.

Within a day of Dave Lee’s passing, the first account of alleged mistreatment was put up on Facebook by a former Guards trainee.

Ex-Guards trainee publicly claims mistreatment by superiors & medical officer during NS

He alleged that both superiors and the medical officer were prone to give short shrift to genuine medical conditions during his time in NS several years ago.

One interpretation of this account

While punishment and tekan sessions are par for the course in the life of every NSF, the line that dictates what is acceptable is neither fixed nor transferable.

Trainers in the force are relied upon to exercise their own judgement to carry out what they feel is appropriate in their particular military vocation.

On the trainees’ receiving end, what they experience might appear more unique and severe — by virute that not all NS vocations are created the same.

Another account

Another Singaporean man also shared how he was viewed to be malingering in NS when he reported feeling an intense chest pain he never felt before during the outfield tekan session.

This incident is fairly recent as it took place in November 2017.

A subsequent electrocardiogram revealed his medical condition was genuine and he was put on 60 days of light duty status.

Experiences from decades ago

This current social-media-enabled recounting of past experiences has also encouraged others to speak up about the type of unjustified maltreatment by their superiors in NS, some as long as 30 years ago.

Such airing of grievances will not bring about any material difference now, but it is a cathartic exercise.

More openness about NS training methods

Social media-enabled retelling of personal narratives is but just one reason for Singaporeans to come forward now.

The overall climate has made such a phenomenon ripe for the picking.

There has been, in recent years, a glorification and demystification of the great leveller that is National Service — accounts of which, at times, can be borderline masochistic valorisation.

6 things you should really know about Naval Divers and this thing called ‘Hell Week’

What was formerly considered closely-guarded training practices unmentionable in public, is suddenly okay for widespread public consumption, especially with the onset of the local military movie franchises that normalise talking about NS life, warts and all.

Moving forward

A Committee of Inquiry has been convened to investigate the circumstances of what happened to Private Dave Lee.

Action can be taken against any perpetrator in the military and civilian court.

For parents with sons in NS or who will be enlisting in the future, this is cold comfort.

In the meantime, they are, nonetheless, owed the peace of mind that everything will turn out okay.

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About Belmont Lay

Belmont can pronounce "tchotchke".

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