POW/MIA Update: April 9, 2012

AMERICANS IDENTIFIED: There are 1,672 Americans listed by the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) as missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War. Most recently listed as accounted-for on the DPMO website was Master Sergeant Arden Hassenger, USAF, OR, MIA in Laos on 12/24/65. His remains were recovered on 2/18/10, and identified 3/5/12. The number of Americans announced as returned and identified since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 is now 911. Another 63 US personnel, recovered post-incident and identified before the end of the war, bring the officially listed total recovered and identified to 974. Of the 1,672 still missing or otherwise unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War, 90% were lost in Vietnam or in areas of Laos and Cambodia under Vietnam’s wartime control: Vietnam–1,284 (VN-471, VS-813); Laos–324; Cambodia–57; Peoples Republic of China territorial waters–7; more than 450 were over-water losses.

ACCOUNTING COOPERATION: Joint Field Activities (JFAs) just concluded in Vietnam, the largest such operations in some time, including six recovery teams and two investigation teams. Joint Advance Work took place from February 27th until March 8th, and full scale investigations and recoveries began at multiple sites on March 9th. Until now, the US had largely failed to respond to the Vietnamese government’s 2009 proposal to the League to increase the pace and scope of such operations. The next JFA in Vietnam will also include multiple Recovery Teams (RTs), an Underwater Recovery Team (URT), and Investigation Team (IT) and a Research Investigation Team (RIT), the latter most often focused on cases of US personnel last known alive (LKA). This pace must be continued and, where possible, further expanded to enable getting answers before witnesses are no longer available and remains have disintegrated even more due to the acidic soil in the region. The next POW/MIA Technical Talks will take place in Hanoi on May 4th.

DIA’s Stony Beach POW/MIA specialist in Laos, Dustin Roses, was finally allowed to participate in the just-concluded JFA. Inclusion of Stony Beach was an important step toward fully utilizing this specialist and long overdue, but the Lao government has not yet agreed for him to conduct such interviews outside the timing of JPAC field operations. Lao objections have continued despite the fact that all Stony Beach interviews would be fully coordinated with the Lao government, and trips outside Vientiane would be in the company of a designated Lao official. The League is hopeful that this initial step will demonstrate to skeptical Lao decision-makers that this highly qualified specialist is focused solely on POW/MIA matters and there is no viable rationale for limiting his ability to help locate information useful to the accounting mission. Due to use of only one Lao Air helicopter being certified as safe to carry US military personnel, this was one of the smallest JFAs yet. The Lao government is seeking greater compensation for decreasing support, claiming that Lao Air is a private company; however, it is owned and supported by the Lao Ministry of National Defense. The extraordinary demands for compensation are short-sighted and destructive, revealing a very poor investment climate to entice foreign direct investment, a high priority for Laos.

JPAC also recently completed a successful JFA in Cambodia, though utilizing only on RT and one trilateral investigation team, working with Cambodian counterparts. This was the first JFA in Cambodia this year, but more investigations and recoveries should be scheduled in FY12, instead of completing only one per year. With only 57 US personnel still listed as unaccounted-for in Cambodia, and six or so incidents located and awaiting excavation, an all-out push by the US, ably assisted by Cambodian officials whose cooperation is the most highly praised, could actually achieve “fullest possible accounting” objectives in the near term. Expectations must be reasonable and tempered by knowledge of the horrors inflicted by the Khmer Rouge on the Cambodian people.

STATUS OF JPAC FUNDING & PERSONNEL: According to JPAC Commander MG Steve Tom, USAR, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs Bob Newberry and, most recently, an Obama Administration official who met with the League and representatives from the VFW, Legion, DAV, JWV, Marine Corps League, AMVETS and VVA, full funding for FY12 scheduled operations should not be of any concern. According to Mr. Newberry’s January 4, 2012 letter to the League, “…the Department increased funding for JPAC beginning in 2012 to meet the statutory requirements to increase accounting for missing Americans from all past conflicts and will continue to support the program to meet the emergent North Korea requirement. There should be no effect on JPAC operations in Southeast Asia as a result of a lack of funding.” That assurance is welcome, but leaves unanswered questions about incremental timing of JPAC’s receipt of such FY12 funds and funding for FY13 and beyond in this era of budget cuts. Though no adverse impact on Vietnam War accounting has been publicly assured for FY12, JPAC could decide to alter schedules, especially if promised funding does not arrive in JPAC accounts before deadlines for making go/no-go decisions, DPRK operations are scheduled, or interest in WWII recovery operations in Burma gain momentum. This situation warrants very close monitoring.

JPAC PLANNING EXERCISE: Selected JPAC officials met in closed session over a period of two weeks to discuss long-term plans to fulfill their interpretation of the accounting mission. Though planning is always a good thing, including contingency planning, any expansion of operations to recover remains of Korean War and WWII personnel must not be the result of reducing Vietnam War accounting operations. As previously noted in League Updates, there are some advocating a “Super CIL” approach, with little to no consideration of conditions and circumstances. Momentum is building to resume recovery operations in Burma/Myanmar. Technical talks are now scheduled for the last week of April, offering the prospect of bilateral humanitarian cooperation, a prospect the League has advocated and welcomes but, again, NOT at the expense of reducing Vietnam War accounting efforts. As above on funding and personnel concerns, this is something to closely monitor to ensure that Members of Congress understand the need for adequate funding to simultaneously pursue accountability for personnel missing from all wars.

CHANGES COMING TO DPMO: The long overdue changes in DPMO reportedly occur with the April 16th arrival of MG W. Montague “Que” Winfield, USA (Ret), as the new Deputy Assistant Secretary for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs and Director of DPMO, replacing Bob Newberry. The League’s advocacy for additional JPAC funding and personnel to enable expansion of field operations also entailed opposition to some DPMO initiatives to engage in operations, rather than providing the policy guidance and support for which DPMO was established. The united action by the major national veteran organizations and the League was also in opposition to DPMO’s attempt, backed by DoD and others, to control the US-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIA Affairs (USRJC) and subsume it under DoD-controlled working groups as part of a broader “reset” in US-Russian relations. It is hoped that MG Winfield will not fall victim to listening to those in DPMO whose vision was not shared or supported by those of us most directly affected, the POW/MIA families and our nation’s veterans.

HOUSE RESOLUTION 485: Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC) introduced H. Res. 485, calling for several important steps by the Secretary of Defense and, most importantly, signaling the need for additional funding to ensure that priority on the accounting mission is sustained and expanded. As expected, it was not voted on before Congress recessed for the holidays; therefore, it is very important that additional House Members sign on to co-sponsor and register their support. Please contact your elected representative; ask him or her to contact Congressman Jones’ Staff Assistant Ray Celeste by email [email protected] or phone, 202-226-5241.

43RD ANNUAL MEETING JUNE 14-17th. Call now for reservations, 1-800-HILTONS (1-800-445-8667), at the Hilton Crystal City Hotel, using Group Code “MIA” or use the Hilton website with the same code. Registration forms are available on the League website and were distributed in the League Newsletter last month. Your bank’s “bill-pay” program can also be used for donations to the League or to register for the 43rd Annual Meeting, thus saving check-writing, stamps and time.

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