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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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POW/MIA ACCOUNTING COMMUNITY: THE CURE?

Saturday, August 24, 2013 @ 10:08 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

Database Mgt

The POW/MIA accounting community is working on a timely reorganization plan to satisfy the Congress, DoD and others who believe there is a need for one of the organizations to head the overall accounting community.  It appears that politicians on Capitol Hill think this change will rectify much of the disarray, perceived to exist in the system.

I lean in the direction of technology, not towards building a new org chart.  The accounting community, as currently organized, has a positive record of success, but the 2010 NDAA mandate was a game changer.  The two primary leaders in the community, who have a vested interest in seeing the system work, are the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) and the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO).

As a military command reporting to the US Pacific Command, JPAC is tasked with global field operations, leading to recoveries and identifications of unaccounted-for MIAs from past wars.   Bringing home our MIAs from Vietnam, Tarawa, Germany and many other locations is a military mission, because nobody does it better than our men and women in uniform.

DPMO reports to the Secretary of Defense, and its responsibilities include supporting JPACs field operations with policy oversight, research & analysis, communication and computer technology – namely, through its new WWII database.  There are others in the community who also support the MIA effort, contributing in a number of areas, ranging from investigative to scientific expertise.  Most also serve the active duty military.

The magic number of MIA identifications that Congress expects JPACs Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) to produce annually by 2015 is 200; the trick is for JPAC/DPMO to efficiently/repetitively sift through thousands of WWII cases to determine which have the greatest probability of success in the field.  WWII is believed to be the frontrunner among other wars to provide enough annual MIA identifications to meet the demands of the mandate, but it is slow going thus far.

If Congress amended the mandate, allowing DPMO time to regroup on its WWII computer system, switching to a modern electronic case management system, JPAC could continue global field operations and exhumations of unknowns.  The entire accounting community could gradually make an orderly transition from a 1990s management style to one capable of handling today’s increased demands.  Technology management solutions would make better use of analysts’ skills — both within DPMO and JPAC — allowing the latter to more efficiently handle the overwhelming increase in WWII cases and expectations with a better chance of success.

The CIL is ready, but focusing on the other side of the house through technology could mean the difference between success and failure in the future.

Concerns about Vietnam War recoveries focus primarily on beating the clock before time runs out because of environmental conditions; walking away now would be a huge mistake.  Korean War recoveries in the north are dealing with political instability but will always continue when the time is right.  Both could eventually be integrated into a total case management system, but WWII is the biggest problem.

LEGACY PROBLEM

Like many of the government’s institutions, the use of modern technology for case management is spotty and not entirely understood or welcomed.  Filled with paper trails and legacy computer systems that have yet to be integrated, the accounting community has thus far been able to operate reasonably efficient with a seat-of-the-pants approach, namely because the Vietnam War model, although rudimentary, has been fine-tuned over decades and predates the kind of technology available today.

On the other hand, the CIL’s investigative/scientific technology has continued to improve over time, thanks to additional funding and forensic advancements in the use of DNA – an increasingly valuable tool that can now lead to identifications of remains once thought impossible.  But in many WWII recoveries, the CIL often relies upon material evidence and a variety of other forensic techniques, since DNA is not always the primary source of identification for this group.

THE SOLUTION

What the mandate did not take into account was the need for a case management system, allowing the integration of a variety of resources to enhance the global uptick in WWII field operations.  When DPMO rolled out its WWII database a few years ago, it was touted as the tool that would help make the mandate work.  Unfortunately, the database has not lived up to expectations in terms of design, integration and targeted information.

Over the years, families of MIAs have questioned DPMO about the lack of an interactive computer system to allow them better access.  Although this may happen eventually, DPMO will likely need to focus on a propriety approach to comply with more pressing needs.

When the Senate subcommittee met on August 1, 2013, in D.C. to discuss several areas of concern within the accounting community, as a result of negative reports that made headlines in the media, I viewed the segment on C-Span and heard a comment about DPMOs WWII database, when DASD Winfield was told to continue populating the system.  Most systems require a long-term commitment for populating, but it is important to select the right software and everything else needed to make it function properly.

State-of-the-art technology in government is often underrated – possibly because it requires a new way of thinking, commitment and money, so it comes as no surprise that few would recognize the need for modern case management solutions to achieve success and/or avoid impending disaster.  And often the wrong system can be worse than no system at all.  Through the use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software, the industry standard in the federal government, case management solutions can deliver the kind of results needed in the accounting community.  COTS software is available from several companies, such as Oracle, SalesForce.com and Microsoft –some of the most well-known and respected leaders in the industry.

These companies work with an organization’s analysts to customize COTS software to create algorithms, which allow the computer to think like an analyst, searching thousands of databases in minutes to produce targeted information that can connect back to a case.  Instead of searching a database – or several linked together – that respond with a zillion choices, case management solutions produce the best probability results, allowing analysts to work faster and smarter and with less legwork.

For instance, JPAC might want to know the top 50 WWII cases in a specific geographic area, during second quarter field operations.  Within minutes, analysts would receive cases with the highest probability of success.

Although relatively new to DPMO, I hope that DASD Winfield makes technology a priority and receives the necessary resources to fix the problem.  However, without a qualified and dedicated team assigned to the project, this program will be no better than the one that already exists.   Case management solutions with COTS technology offer reliable solutions; ultimately save time and money; and would streamline efforts for JPAC to efficiently handle the enormous increase in WWII global recovery efforts.  And most of all, the accounting community could all be on the same page.

Without proper case management at the frontend, asking our military command to perform miracles in the field is setting them up for failure – a sad commentary on the mission to bring home our unaccounted-for loved ones, who paid the ultimate price while wearing the uniform.

 

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