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Bradenton mom presses Army for answers in her son’s death. ‘I can’t let him go without a fight.’

Camp Humphries (USAG- Humphreys/Flickr)

After a training accident that took the life of Spc. Nicholas Panipinto of Bradenton in South Korea in 2019, changes are coming to the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division driver training program.

In addition, two company-grade officers and a sergeant are facing severe sanctions.

Panipinto died in November 2019, after his Bradley Fighting Vehicle overturned during a field training exercise at Camp Humphries, South Korea.

The ensuing accident investigation showed a lack of medical care for soldiers in the field, as well as a lack of overall training required to drive the vehicle. Many 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 Army recently briefed Kimberly Weaver, Panipinto’s mother, on its actions in the aftermath of the accident. Those actions, according to a military briefing slide, include:

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All 37 companies of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, were ordered to reassess their driver’s training program and to brief their battalion commanders on the status of their programs, ensuring all driver’s training programs are enforced to Army standard.

The company commander, platoon leader, and Bradley commander received letters of reprimand and “were initiated” for involuntary separation. In addition, the Bradley commander received non-judicial punishment and a reduction in rank.

U.S. Forces-Korea ordered an examination into emergency medical care across all military bases throughout the Korean peninsula.

“There were no training programs in place. We have had multiple soldiers say they were just handing out driver licenses. How can you blame just thee soldiers when so many things went wrong,” Weaver said. “They are throwing these three, who are just kids, really, under the bus, and the higher ups continue to get promoted. So many things went wrong, who was in charge?”

Weaver also asked why a vehicle inspection report was not part of the investigation into her son’s death.

“They blame speed for the reason the track came off the Bradley, but on what grounds? Where is the vehicle maintenance history and the inspection following the accident? It was a road test out of maintenance, after all,” she said. “Ten mph around a corner shouldn’t make the track come off and roll a 27-ton vehicle.

“I see photos of Bradleys that fell 20 feet off a cliff at the National Training Center on rugged terrain and both tracks remained on. Nicholas was on flat ground. Doesn’t make sense the the vehicle inspection report is nowhere to be found,” Weaver said.

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, took note of the briefing that Weaver received.

“I’m glad to see the military acknowledge the problem and take corrective action to save lives going forward. These tragic deaths won’t end until the military recognizes that it’s unacceptable when more soldiers die in training accidents than in combat,” Buchanan said.

“The best way we can honor the memory of Nicholas would be for the Pentagon to reform its military training procedures. In the meantime, I’m going to push ahead with my request that the U.S. House Armed Services Committee conduct a public hearing and work to have my legislation addressing the issue signed into law,” Buchanan said this week.

Weaver said she appreciated the way that Buchanan has championed her family in search of answers in Nicholas’ death.

“Until he got involved, this wasn’t going well,” she said.

Weaver said she will continue to ask the difficult questions about her son’s death.

“He was my best friend. We were so close. I can’t let him go without a fight. I don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” she said.

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© 2020 The Bradenton Herald