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  1. #1
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    The Straits Times
    Singapore

    September 15 2008

    NSF officer wins nation's top award for saving a recruit's life

    By Jermyn Chow

    Second-Lieutenant Kok Khew Fai was overseeing a grenade-throwing exercise earlier this year when he saw one of the live explosives slip through the hand of a recruit.

    It landed just 4m away, and the pair had six seconds before it went off.

    So, the platoon commander from the Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) pushed the recruit to the ground and threw himself over him.

    The next three seconds were probably the longest of 2nd Lt Kok's life.

    "My mind was blank, but I was also worried that the recruit was not protected properly", he said.

    The grenade exploded, and while shrapnel flew over their heads, the pair escaped unscathed.

    Yesterday, the 20-year-old 2nd Lt Kok became the first full-time national serviceman (NSF) to receive the nation's top award for courage - the SAF Medal of Distinguished Act.

    He enters the rarefied turf - already occupied by six others, all regular servicemen - for saving the life of a recruit under his command.

    Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean pinned the medal on 2nd Lt Kok's chest and recounted his act of bravery to 263 officer cadets who graduated from the Singapore Armed Forces Officer Cadet School. Mr Teo called 2nd Lt Kok a "brave and selfless" officer who "performed his duty resolutely". He "led his men into action, and protected them when in danger".

    The proud parents of the newly minted hero were present at yesterday's ceremony. His father said he was not surprised by his son's selfless act.

    "He has been a very responsible, quick-witted and alert boy since he was young," said shipyard foreman Kok Hon Kuan, 51.

    But the Kok clan - which includes two other children - was shocked when they first heard six months ago that 2nd Lt Kok came within a hair of losing his life.

    On March 8, he was the safety officer supervising a platoon of 50 recruits from BMTC School 1 during a grenade-throwing drill in Pulau Tekong.

    They were throwing the grenades from a walled-off platform towards the grenade range. Under 2nd Lt Kok's watch, one recruit armed an explosive. But when he went to throw it, the explosive slipped from his hand and landed on the ground behind them.

    After spotting the mishap, 2nd Lt Kok threw himself on top of the recruit to shield him from the blast. The high walls of the grenade-throwing bay ensured that both men were not in the direct line of the explosion. But 2nd Lt Kok was exposed and could have been hit by deflected shrapnel, which could go as far as 25m.

    He was stunned - but fleetingly - and the exercise was halted as medical personnel tended to him. "It was only then that I realised I was so close to being killed, he said.

    Both 2nd Lt Kok and the recruit suffered only minor scrapes.

    The grenade-throwing exercise is considered an integral part of the three-month basic military training. "It's a rite of passage for a soldier," said BMTC School 1 commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Loong Tean Yuan.

    He said recruits are taught how to throw a grenade and how to react if it lands near them. Only those who are deemed medically and mentally fit can throw grenades, he added.

    This is only the sixth accident involving a grenade in the 41-year history of national service. One person died in 1970 when a live grenade exploded in his hands.

    In two months, 2nd Lt Kok will complete his full-time national service and go on to study aerospace engineering at Nanyang Technological University.

    The Malaysia-born officer - he got his Singapore citizenship in May last year - still has not got used to his status as a hero. "I'm not a hero, I did what I had to do to keep him safe. Everyone else would have done the same thing," he said.

    (For me, it is heartwarming to know that there are also foreign-born citizens who can make Singapore proud.)

  2. #2
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    He sure is an hero risking his own life to save another person. But just cursious, they are using real grenades in grenade-throwing exercise? Isn't it too dangerous?

  3. #3
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    how can a grenade slip out of his hand?
    rookies should start training with throwing rock instead

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