Vern Buchanan grills Army general over death of Bradenton soldier
Spc. Nicholas Panipinto

Spc. Nicholas Panipinto died in a training accident in South Korea in 2019.

At a congressional hearing on military mishaps, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan dressed down a general about a Florida soldier’s death.

The U.S. House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness on Tuesday held a special hearing on “Learning From and Preventing Future Training Mishaps.” There, members spoke about military procedures with leaders from each branch of the service.

Buchanan, who requested the hearing, focused his attention on the Army and the 2019 death of Spc. Nicholas Panipinto. The 20-year-old from Bradenton died in a training exercise at Camp Humphreys in South Korea.

“A tragic series of failures and training errors contributed to Nick’s death,” Buchanan said.

Vern Buchanan

The Sarasota Republican has worked with Kimberly Weaver, Panipinto’s mother and a constituent in Florida’s 16th Congressional District, on reforms to prevent future tragedies.

Gen. Joseph Martin, vice chief of staff for the Army, said a failure to follow protocols contributed to Panipinto’s death and that supervising officers responsible for enforcing those rules and regulations had been held responsible.

Buchanan pressed on certain details. Camp Humphreys at the time of the training accident had no MedEvac helicopter or a fully stocked ambulance to handle a medical emergency as a vehicle accident. “(Panipinto) arrived at the hospital two hours after the accident and died from injuries that day,” Buchanan said.

A budget amendment drafted by Buchanan’s and included in the Defense spending bill last year calls for a military-wide evaluation of medical response capabilities at all U.S. bases overseas. Martin said that’s underway now, and there’s an expectation for every base to have response capabilities.

Gen. Joseph Martin

The two also discussed the question of why Panipinto was operating an M2A3 fighting vehicle, which he was not licensed or certified to drive.

“That’s a classic example of deviations from existing standards,” Martin said. Regulations for the military require proper training before a soldier can operate such a vehicle even in training exercises, but that didn’t happen in this case. Since Panipinto’s death, training requirements before handling a vehicle have become more rigorous, Martin said, but even at the time rules were not followed.

Buchanan said there needs to be more classroom training before individuals in the military handle dangerous equipment.

Underlying Buchanan’s questions was a clear frustration about losing a young soldier with such low stakes. He noted that in 2017, 20 service members were killed in combat compared to 80 killed in training exercises.

“I want to get your thoughts on what is acceptable,” he said.

Martin, conveying his sympathy for loss of a constituent’s child, stressed there is an inherent risk to military work.

“What we do is very difficult, and we ask soldiers to do a lot to do the mission they do,” he said. “They do a lot of high risk activity.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected]


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