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Congressman wants hearing on military training accidents after death of Camp Humphreys soldier

A photo of Spc. Nicholas Panipinto is displayed during a memorial service inside the Warrior Chapel at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019.

MATTHEW KEELER/STARS AND STRIPES

By JAMES A. JONES JR. | The Bradenton Herald | Published: August 18, 2020

BRADENTON, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Rep. Vern Buchanan called on the House Armed Services Committee to hold a public hearing on military training accidents. Nine service members died recently in a California training accident, and a Florida soldier died last year in a training accident in South Korea.

“The loss of a single American soldier is tragic and the continued loss of service members in training accidents is completely unacceptable,” Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, said in a press release Monday. “We need to get to the bottom of these tragic accidents and enact reforms that will save lives going forward. That’s why I’m calling on the House Armed Services Committee to immediately conduct a public hearing on this important issue.”

In a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, Buchanan stressed the need for military training reforms following the disturbing rise in deadly training accidents.

In 2019, Army Spc. Nicholas Panipinto of Bradenton died in a training accident at Camp Humphreys in South Korea when his Bradley Fighting Vehicle 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.

Another local soldier, Pfc. Zachery Fuller, 23, of Palmetto died in an accident June 2, 2016, at Fort Hood, Texas. He was one of nine soldiers who drowned when their 2.5-ton truck drove into deep floodwaters.

According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, between 2006 and 2018, 32 percent of active-duty military deaths were the result of training accidents, twice as many as were killed in combat. In 2017 alone, nearly four times as many service members died in training accidents as were killed in action.

Late last month an amphibious assault vehicle carrying 16 crew members sank off the coast of southern California during a training exercise. The Department of Defense has revealed that eight Marines and one Navy sailor died during the training accident.

The cause of the California accident is yet to be determined by investigators. This is the third accident involving an amphibious assault vehicle at Camp Pendleton in the past decade. Accidents in 2011 and 2017 left one service member dead and 15 injured.

Buchanan has repeatedly called for changes to military training procedures following Panipinto’s death. Last month, the U.S. House overwhelmingly passed an amendment authored by Buchanan requiring the Pentagon to examine emergency medical services at U.S. military bases. A lack of emergency services on base and delays in medical response were cited in Panipinto’s death.

Buchanan’s amendment requires the Defense Department to examine emergency response capabilities and services available at every U.S. military base around the world and to report to Congress on the potential benefits and feasibility of requiring bases to have properly functioning MedEvac helicopters and fully-stocked military ambulances.

“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 continued. “We cannot afford to wait any longer and risk the health and safety of our men and women in uniform.”

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