Vern Buchanan Calls on Defense Department to Change Military Training Procedures

After a Bradenton soldier was killed during a training exercise, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., called on the U.S. Defense Department and congressional leaders to change military training procedures.

In a letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the U.S. House and Senate Armed Services Committees, Buchanan detailed the revelations surrounding the case of his constituent, SPC Nicholas Panipinto of Bradenton. He sent a similar letter to U.S. Defense Sec. Mark Esper. The congressman proposed a number of changes to the military’s current training and safety protocols to prevent future deaths.

Panipinto died in a training accident at Camp Humphreys in South Korea last November when the M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle he was driving overturned during a road-test.

Numerous safety and training failures contributed to Panipinto’s death, including malfunctions of the vehicle’s communication systems, defective or broken equipment, a lack of medical services on base and significant delays in medical response to the scene of the accident.

“The heartbreaking and very preventable death of my constituent SPC Nicholas Panipinto clearly shows that changes in training and safety procedures need to be made,” Buchanan said on Monday. “The serious deficiencies and failures identified in the report on SPC Panipinto’s death call for immediate reforms within the Department of Defense. I want to make sure that no family has to go through the pain and suffering that SPC Panipinto’s family has faced.”

According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, between 2006 and 2018 a staggering 32 percent of active-duty military deaths were the result of training accidents. During that same time period, only 16 percent of service members were killed in action. And in 2017 alone, nearly four times as many service members died in training accidents than were killed in action.

According to his mother, Kimberly Weaver, Panipinto did not have a license, the required amount of driver training or any classroom instruction before beginning his road-test.

“This is an unbearable pain and what makes it even more painful, is that it was entirely preventable,” Weaver said. “Nothing is going to change the outcome for us now, but we can and should take action to prevent it from happening to other families in the future. We look forward to working with Congressman Buchanan to address this issue and help save lives.”

According to sworn testimony from his unit’s master driver, who’s responsible for training troops on vehicles and administering licenses, their unit’s driver training program was “nonexistent.” The unnamed individual went on to state that “When I took over the program there was nothing, I had no paperwork for any soldiers with licenses. Soldiers came up to me and informed me that the previous master driver just gave them licenses without a 40 hour block of instruction.”

Buchanan sent a separate letter to Esper requesting that the Defense Department implement much-needed reforms to prevent tragedies like the death of Panipinto.

Panipinto was an infantryman assigned to the Fort Hood-based 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, which deployed to the divided peninsula in July for a nine-month rotation.

The full text of the letter is below.

Dear Chairman Smith, Chairman Inhofe, Ranking Member Thornberry, and Ranking Member Reed,

As you work to craft the upcoming 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I am urging you to include much-needed reforms to help eliminate training accidents among U.S. service members.

As you know, noncombat deaths have consistently exceeded the number of military members killed in combat in recent years. One of those tragic deaths involved my constituent, SPC Nicholas Panipinto, of Bradenton, Florida, who died in a November 6, 2019 training accident at Camp Humphreys in South Korea.

According to a report, between 2006 and 2018 a staggering 32 percent of active-duty military deaths were the result of training accidents. During that same time period, only 16 percent of service members were killed in action. And in 2017 alone, nearly four times as many service members died in training accidents than were killed in action.

This disturbing trend must end.

As I detailed in a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper last month, a recent investigation revealed that numerous and potentially systemic training and emergency response failures contributed to the death of my constituent when the M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle he was driving overturned during a road-test.

In one particularly damning sworn statement from his unit’s master driver, who’s responsible for training troops on vehicles and administering licenses, their unit’s driver training program was “nonexistent.” The unnamed individual went on to state that “When I took over the program there was nothing, I had no paperwork for any soldiers with licenses. Soldiers came up to me and informed me that the previous master driver just gave them licenses without a 40 hour block of instruction.”

This heartbreaking and very preventable story is why I am urging you to consider implementing the following common-sense reforms and improvements in this year’s annual defense policy bill so that future military personnel don’t needlessly suffer the same fate.

      1. Take steps to ensure compliance and if necessary, strengthen and enhance current requirements for training and licensing of military drivers.
      2. Add a simulated training requirement to existing protocols to ensure that new military drivers are properly trained and prepared for their assignments.
      3. Strengthen existing regulations governing the safe and proper functioning of all military equipment used in training exercises.
      4. Take steps to ensure that there is a hospital or an emergency medical facility on-campus at all U.S. military bases on foreign soil.
      5. Ensure that U.S. military bases have properly functioning MedEvac helicopters and military ambulances stocked with the appropriate emergency medical supplies.

I thank you for your steadfast commitment and service to our brave men and women in uniform and look forward to your response on this critically important matter.

 

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