Lawmaker Calls for Public Hearing on 'Disturbing Rise' in Deadly Military Training Accidents

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U.S. Army Spc. Nicholas C. Panipinto
Army Spc. Nicholas C. Panipinto, 20, died on Nov. 6, 2019, from injuries sustained when a Bradley Fighting Vehicle overturned at Camp Humphreys. (U.S. Army photo)

A Republican lawmaker called on the House Armed Services Committee to hold a public hearing on the "disturbing rise in deadly training accidents" to pursue military training reforms and prevent further tragic accidents.

"The death of my constituent, Army Specialist Nicolas Panipinto, last year and a recent training accident at Camp Pendleton that left nine service members dead are tragic examples showing the obvious need for reforms to military training," Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., wrote in an Aug. 17 letter to the committee's leadership. "That is why I am calling for the House Armed Services Committee to immediately hold a public hearing looking into the disturbing frequency of U.S. military training accidents around the world and to examine potential reforms to help save lives."

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In early June, Buchanan sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, demanding reforms after learning of "disturbing revelations" surrounding Panipinto's death.

Panipinto, of Bradenton, Florida, died in late 2019 in a Bradley fighting vehicle accident at Camp Humphreys, South Korea.

The "right-hand side tread of Panipinto's M2A3 came off" and caused the massive vehicle to roll over, according to the letter Buchanan sent to Esper. Buchanan said that Panipinto lacked the proper training to drive the armored fighting vehicle on a Nov. 6 road test.

On July 30, eight Marines and one Navy sailor died when their Assault Amphibious Vehicle (AAV) sank near San Clemente Island in Southern California after it began taking on water on its way back to the amphibious transport dock Somerset.

The Marine Corps has suspended all waterborne operations of AAVs until an investigation determines what caused the vehicle to sink.

The deadly accident is the third involving an amphibious assault vehicle at Camp Pendleton in the past decade, Buchanan said, describing incidents in 2011 and 2017 that left one service member dead and 15 injured.

"Accidents like this one and the one that took the life of Specialist Panipinto cannot be tolerated," he said. "We need to get to the bottom of these tragic accidents and enact reforms that will save lives going forward."

Buchanan stressed that a "staggering 32 percent of active-duty military deaths were the result of training accidents" between 2006 and 2018, attributing the numbers to a report by the Congressional Research Service.

In 2017 alone, the report found that nearly four times as many service members died in training accidents than were killed in action.

Panipinto's mother, Kimberly Weaver, said she had no idea there had been so many military training deaths.

"We thought that when he got sent to South Korea on a rotation that he was going to be safe," Weaver told Military.com. "You know that there is some danger in training because they are training with heavy equipment, and it's dangerous circumstances, but for 32% of our [military] fatalities to be in training -- it's crazy to me."

Weaver said her son trained as a dismounted infantry soldier, not a driver.

"He was a dismount; he was training his whole time in the Army to kick in doors and clear rooms," she said. "He wasn't training to drive."

Buchanan has repeatedly called for changes to military training procedures following Panipinto's death, according to a news release from his office.

Last month, the U.S. House passed an amendment, authored by Buchanan, requiring the Pentagon to examine emergency medical services at U.S. military bases, since an investigation into Panipinto's death cited a lack of emergency services on base and delays in medical response, according to the release.

"The highest tribute that can be paid to the soldiers lost in training accidents is to enact reforms that ensure that these mistakes never happen again," Buchanan wrote in his letter to the House Armed Services Committee leadership. "We cannot afford to wait any longer and risk the health and safety of our men and women in uniform."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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