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My first husband, Capt. Jerry Zimmer, was an F4B Phantom jet pilot, whose aircraft was shot down on August 29, 1969, approximately 20 miles South of Da Nang, Vietnam, after six months in country. Neither Jerry nor his navigator, 1st Lt. Al Graf, was able to eject, before the aircraft crashed into the Que Son Mountains. Initially Jerry and Al were classified as Killed in Action/No Body Recovered (KIA/NBR). Years later, both Marines were listed as MIA, along with other service members whose bodies were never recovered.

Jerry has been gone nearly a half century, and hope for recovering his remains had run out a long time ago.  However, in recent years our family became involved with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), now merged with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), and learned that Jerry’s and Al’s remains might, in fact, be recoverable, so we are doing everything possible to support their efforts to make this happen and bring our guys home where they belong.

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Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office — My Conversation with DASD Bob Newberry

Tuesday, February 1, 2011 @ 08:02 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

DASD Bob Newberry and Director of External Affairs Charles Henley at the recent MIA Family Update in Scottsdale, AZ

While in Scottsdale, AZ, during an MIA Family Update in late January, I sat down with Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) Bob Newberry to discuss some issues of concern, as they apply to MIAs, yet to be accounted for in Vietnam. Bob leads the organization known as the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), which falls under the Department of Defense (DoD), unlike JPAC that falls under the military’s PACOM.

A career Air Force pilot with 26 years of service—including three tours in Vietnam, flying F4s and A4s—Bob immediately earned my admiration. In addition, we have some mutual friends, who say Bob is a good guy. But living on the West Coast, we’re always a little leery of the bureaucrats on the Hill, especially those who are not afraid to ruffle a few feathers along the way – like making decisions that could affect recovery efforts of MIAs from the Vietnam War. Bob is on my radar, and I’m hoping to break him of his bad habits.

Bob’s group has a broad mission, but his relationship with JPAC focuses primarily on writing policy; assisting with field research, foreign negotiations and communication. There are some who think that DPMO is trying to add JPACs operational role to its war chest—historically this is nothing new, but it has never been a popular notion, especially among families with MIAs in Vietnam. Advocates of JPAC say we need a group with a mission that is solely dedicated to recovering our MIAs—and like it or not, JPACs mission is not buried beneath a quagmire of bureaucracy.

I was surprised to learn that Bob was not more concerned about budgets, given the current state of affairs. I asked how he felt now about the timing of his ill-conceived mandate in the 2010 Defense Authorization Act. I have written extensively about the mandate directed at JPAC s Central Identification Lab (CIL) to produce 200 identifications per year by 2015. According to Bob, JPAC will have the necessary funding in FY2012 to get the job done. Nevertheless, I advise that all MIA families keep a close eye on this much needed funding–nothing seems to be sacred today!

Bob is convinced that the mandate is a good thing, asking me if I wanted to see the identification process speeded up or not, to which I replied that I did—but not if it was going to hurt efforts in Vietnam. He jumped in and said that he wanted efforts in Vietnam to increase, not decrease, and had just written a policy to that effect. And although Maj Gen Tom, Commander of JPAC, and Dr. Tom Holland, Senior Scientist at JPAC, have committed to the 200 IDs per year by 2015, most know that the increase in IDs won’t likely come from Vietnam recoveries. Nevertheless, Bob doesn’t want Maj Gen Tom and Dr. Holland to look upon the mandate as if it were a criminal law. He explained that if the 200 could not be met in 2015, there were mechanisms in place to deal with a shortfall. But even Bob was not under the illusion that Maj Gen Tom and Dr. Holland were going to blow off the seriousness of the mandate.

We discussed his penchant for speeding up recoveries by bringing in outside groups to investigate and excavate WW II cases, and Bob continues to think this is a good idea; however, I didn’t feel as if he was totally committed to the concept, especially when I mentioned the huge liability that outside groups would pose. He admitted that liability was a concern of his, too. My feeling is that if you’re going to increase the number of teams, why not give JPAC the means to do that in house–if all goes well with the FY2012 budget, it appears that JPAC will increase its manpower. Presumably, the additional hires would be composed of military and civil service employees, where the liability, cost and management would accurately belong to the government. However, unless something changes, private groups who do the work a few times a year with funds from families, churches, sponsors, etc., would not be covered by the funding increase.

Another issue of concern is the lack of helicopter transport for teams working in Vietnam and Laos because of non CARB compliance. Apparently, a year or two ago, a helicopter transporting a team in Laos had a hard landing with no injuries. According to Bob, the incident prompted our experts to look into the matter, and that is when they learned that the helicopter was not CARB compliant and, consequently, could not transport US teams. Upon further investigation, it was noted that the helicopters in Vietnam were not CARB compliant either.

This may seem like a small glitch, but nothing is small in the world of recoveries, especially when you learn that we lost a large team of our recovery experts about a decade ago in a helicopter accident in Vietnam. This was devastating and still a very sad memory for the people at JPAC and elsewhere. I recall Johnie Webb telling me that JPAC employees went to the site and recovered teammates themselves and brought them back to the CIL’s autopsy room—clearly heartbreaking.

I asked Bob where the transportation issue stood at this time, and he said they were close to obtaining a waiver. I knew that JPAC had a waiver for the transport of supplies, but I assume the team transport is a tougher waiver to obtain. This is no small problem, because most of the work remaining in Vietnam and Laos require helicopter transportation because of the remoteness of sites. And while a waiver sounds like an ideal solution, it is likely to be anything but to the person who signs their name on the waiver form. Of this, Bob and I were in total agreement.

2 Responses to “Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office — My Conversation with DASD Bob Newberry”

  1. Mike West says:

    Elaine:

    I may have missed this sometime before, but what is CARB?

    Good job as usual, but didn’t know you had new postings until visiting the blog.

    As always, Semper Fidelis,

    Mike

  2. Mike–CARB stands for Contracted Airlift Review Board. In the context of my blog, air carriers providing air transportation to the DoD need to comply with the board’s instructions that deal primarily with quality and safety issues. It’s a complex set of requirements, but anyone interested in a more complete response should Google the full name, vs. “CARB,” which may lead some in the wrong direction. Thanks for checking in!

    Elaine


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