Deadly military training accidents face scrutiny at Congressional hearing

Army Specialist Nicholas Panipinto's death is sparking questions about training safety for...
Army Specialist Nicholas Panipinto's death is sparking questions about training safety for active duty service members.
Published: Mar. 23, 2021 at 9:31 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Lawmakers on Capitol Hill spoke out Tuesday about service members dying in military training exercises. The Congressional hearing came about, in part, in the aftermath of a Florida soldier’s death at a military base.

In 2017, service members were four times more likely to die in a training mishap than be killed in action. Families who have lost loved ones to these tragedies are fighting for more safety.

A Congressional Research Service report found that such accidental deaths accounted for a third of all active duty fatalities from the years 2006 to 2020.

“Nicholas was the center of our universe. He was our firstborn, love of our lives,” said Kimberly Weaver.

Weaver’s son, Army Specialist Nicholas Panipinto, died after a vehicle rollover on base in South Korea in 2019. Official reports found he did not receive proper training before the assignment and it took hours for the Bradenton soldier to receive appropriate medical care for his traumatic injuries.

“It’s unacceptable for our service members. They deserve the best. We pride ourselves on our military being the strongest and we’re lacking in this area,” said Weaver.

Florida GOP Congressman Vern Buchanan – who represents Weaver in Washington – requested Tuesday’s hearing before a House Armed Services subcommittee and top military brass. Some generals expressed serious concerns with these incidents and assured lawmakers that changes have been happening in recent years.

“I got a special place in my heart because I did go into the service at 18, and I know what it means for any mother or father to lose a youngster like that,” said Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.).

Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, General Joseph Martin, said at the hearing that Panipinto’s death was unacceptable and that accountability and reforms have since taken place.

The two-hour virtual hearing, entitled “Learning From and Preventing Future Training Mishaps”, can be watched here.

“We’re creating our own little army and we’re hoping that we can save other service members’ lives,” said Weaver.

The Government Accountability Office plans to release a report this spring looking into these safety issues. Leaders are expected to use that information to evaluate whether any additional precautions need to be taken.

Panipinto also inspired a bill by Buchanan, which was signed into law this January. The bipartisan effort requires the Pentagon to examine emergency response systems at military bases and report findings to Congress.

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