POW/MIA Update: August 13, 2014

AMERICANS ACCOUNTED FOR: There are still 1,641 personnel listed by the Department of Defense as missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War, a number that changed with release in late July of the name of Col Thomas W. Dugan, USAF, listed as MIA in Laos on December 13, 1968. Colonel Dugan’s remains were recovered June 6, 2012, and identified as part of a group ID on August 28, 2013. The number of Americans announced by DoD as returned and identified since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 is now 942. Another 63 US personnel, recovered by the US and ID’d before the end of the war, bring the official total of US personnel accounted for from the Vietnam War to 1,005. Of the 1,641 missing and unaccounted-for personnel, 90% were lost in Vietnam or in areas of Cambodia and Laos under Vietnam’s wartime control: Vietnam-1,275 (VN-469, VS-806); Laos-306; Cambodia-53; PRC territorial waters-7. Over-water losses on DoD’s list of No Further Pursuit cases number well over 600.

ONGOING REORGANIZATION: Senior DoD civilian, Alisa Stack, is continuing work as the head of a transition team, the Personnel Accounting Consolidation Task Force (PACT). Reportedly, the PACT includes government specialists in each area to be addressed, from structure of the new agency, to the number of personnel, budget requirements, interface with other departments and agencies, and communication with the families. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations & Low Intensity Conflict (ASD/SOLIC) Michael Lumpkin both stated that communication with the families must be a very high priority consideration in how the new agency performs. Since her appointment, Ms. Stack and PACT members have been actively interviewing interested people, in and out of government, plus appear to be focused on ensuring that a wide variety of voices are heard, responsible and irresponsible, rational and irrational, so the outcome will be interesting.

An outside firm, The Clearing, was contracted to obtain input from family members from all wars on their personal experiences in dealing with various accounting community organizations. In addition to DPMO, JPAC and LSEL (specifically named in the restructure directive and by Congress), these include the Service Casualty Offices, AFDIL and DIA’s Stony Beach POW/MIA team. The Clearing is seeking views from all who are willing and can be reached by emailing [email protected]. Family members from all wars are urged to provide their views and, in light of the comparatively small number of Vietnam War family members, the League is hopeful that ALL Vietnam War families take this opportunity to remind members of PACT, The Clearing and senior DoD officials that uncertainty about Vietnam War missing men is still a significant factor for the families, much more so than remains recoveries of known dead from earlier wars and conflicts. The League supports accounting for losses in WWII, Korean War and Cold War, but in addition to focusing priority on Vietnam War accounting, not to its detriment.

Following review and approval by newly confirmed Undersecretary of Defense for Policy (USD-P) Christine Wormuth, the PACT recommendations will be provided to Deputy Secretary of Defense (DepSecDef) Robert Work. That presentation is anticipated this week and, once he has approved, final recommendations should go to Secretary Hagel. In the interim, ASD/SOLIC Lumpkin testified before the House Armed Services Committee’s (HASC’s) Subcommittee on Military Personnel on July 15th, along with the newly named head of DoD’s Cost Assessment & Program Evaluation (CAPE) office, Dr. Jamie Morin. Dr. Morin, very recently confirmed, reported on CAPE’s findings from their lengthy investigation. ASD Lumpkin testified about ongoing efforts to restructure the accounting community, pledging continued efforts by JPAC, DPMO, LSEL and others as the consolidation and restructuring occurs. He provided the date of January 1, 2015 as the initial start date for the new POW/MIA Accounting Agency, assuring the Subcommittee of full implementation in place by January 1, 2016.

FIELD OPERATIONS: JPAC had planned to conduct a Joint Field Activity (JFA) in Laos in October-November of last year, but it was cancelled due to complications related to receipt of timely funding. Three Recovery Teams (RTs) and one Investigation Team (IT), augmented by the DIA Stony Beach specialist, conducted a JFA January 15-February 17th. A longer JFA began March 4th and concluded April 14th; but only one RT and one IT were deployed. The next JFA was conducted May 9th to June 22nd, with only two RTs, due to the lack of deployable scientific personnel. JPAC will host bi-annual POW/MIA Consultations with Laos on August 26th in Hawaii.

Operations in Cambodia by one RT and one Underwater Recovery Team (URT), postponed twice in 2013, finally took place January 28th – April 2nd. The Stony Beach specialist is permanently in-country and conducts investigations when and where needed, so ITs are not routinely scheduled in conjunction with JPAC’s Cambodia operations. There are no identified sites currently awaiting excavation/recovery; therefore, no JFAs are scheduled in Cambodia until early 2015. The 2013 cancellations had little to do with funding shortages and much to do with internal mishandling of contractual authorities by some in JPAC with no mission-related experience in SEA. Objections were raised to the payment authorization process that had been in place for over 20 years. As a result, all operations were halted while a solution was found that was satisfactory to puzzled Cambodian leaders, the US Ambassador and his staff. An “Order for Services” document was devised that satisfied previously unimportant/ignored criteria, and the Cambodians, always accommodating, agreed to the new process. For the first time in over 20 years, technical level talks will not be held with Cambodia in FY2014, but plans are being considered for senior level discussions with Cambodia’s POW/MIA Committee leadership before the end of the calendar year.

Four RTs conducted operations in Vietnam February 28th – March 27th. Two ITs also deployed on that JFA, plus the RIT (Research Investigation Team) and a Field Forensic Review (FFR) at the end of the JFA. Only three RTs and two ITs were deployed to Vietnam for the May 20th – June 22nd JFA. An underwater operation previously scheduled along the coast of northern Vietnam was cancelled, again reportedly due to lack of available funding. A JFA in Vietnam. August 5th to September 7th, involves four RTs, one Vietnamese Recovery Team (VRT), one IT, and the RIT will again conduct interviews and investigations on LKA cases. On September 23rd, JPAC will host annual Technical Talks with Vietnamese counterparts in Hawaii.

Worldwide: While Vietnam War-related accounting missions slowed, six RTs worked in Germany from April 1st to May 18th on WWII recoveries. In addition to returning to Germany May 10th – June 21st, and overlapping June 15th to July 23rd, working on the same two large WWII bomber sites, there was one IT in Burma from April 28th to May 29th. A special RT recently concluded work on a 1952 US loss being exposed by a melting glacier in Alaska. On this unusual site, there have already been 17 remains recovered and identified, and prospects for additional accountability are high. There was an underwater recovery in Botwood Bay, a harbor in Canada, of a WWII “flying boat” that crashed on take-off. One RT in the Solomon Islands to recover WWII remains began July 8th and concluded August 6th.

Chairman’s Comment: With the above record of on-again, off-again field operations, is it any wonder that Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are questioning US commitment to the accounting mission? The relatively well-developed working relationship that has evolved since the first joint recovery in Laos in 1984 should mean that field operations are conducted at the pace and scope necessary to achieve long-stated accounting objectives, but such is not the case. There are multiple reasons, initially from congressionally-imposed sequestration, to mandatory budget cuts that hit JPAC disproportionately, due to PACOM “borrowing” some of JPAC’s funding for other uses. Cutbacks and cancellations are also due to an inadequate number of deployable JPAC forensic anthropologists, weather restrictions in some areas, often complicated by lack of specialists needed for specific recoveries, and the list goes on and on, with many complications that can arise unexpectedly. Of immediate concern is the need to change existing policy concerning deployable scientific personnel for field operations. If not changed, there will continue to be sporadic reductions in Vietnam War accounting operations, due to competing attention to WWII recoveries in the congressionally-mandated quest for higher numbers of IDs.

Check the League Website: www.pow-miafamilies.org

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