Our Mission:

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.

Twitter

Vietnam Map

Clear
High 86°/Low 76°

Da Nang, Vietnam Current Weather

NOTE:  BLOG POSTS ARE NOT UPDATED, SO INFORMATION MAY HAVE CHANGED OVER TIME.

MIA RECOVERIES: CAN HAGEL DO IT?

Monday, March 17, 2014 @ 10:03 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is preparing to overhaul the MIA Accounting Community.  He has enlisted the help of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Michael Lumpkin, a retired Naval Officer and former SEAL with a distinguished service record.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is preparing to overhaul the MIA Accounting Community. He has directed the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Michael Lumpkin, a retired Naval Officer and former SEAL with a distinguished service record, to come up with a plan by 20 March.

ALERT!

CLICK HERE FOR LATEST NEWS ON THE REORGANIZATION

Families with loved ones missing-in-action from WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam War and Cold War could soon learn of the direction that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel plans to take the accounting community in the near future.  Undergoing a huge overhaul, the community is comprised of several organizations involved with MIA operations – most of which also support our nation’s active-duty military.  If all goes well, they will find themselves operating as one big happy family.

Included in the group are the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), Armed Forces DNA Laboratory (AFDIL), Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory of the Air Force (LSEL), casualty and mortuary affairs offices of the military departments and other groups as designated by the Secretary of Defense.

Hagel has directed the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Michael Lumpkin, a retired Naval Officer and former SEAL Team Commander, to take all information given to him by the Military Departments, Combatant Commands and OSD to reorganize the accounting community “into a single accountable entity that has oversight of all personnel accounting resources, research, and operations across the Department.”  Hagel signed the directive, Feb. 20th with a 30-day deadline, meaning that Lumpkin has until March 20th to pull it all together.

ON THE TABLE

Hagel’s directive involves the following issues:  how to maximize the number of identifications; improve transparency for families; reduce duplicative functions; and how to establish a system for centralized, accessible case files for missing personnel.

Hagel also wants recommendations for changes to the civilian and military personnel policies, contracting and acquisition policies, statutory and regulatory authorities, facilities, budgets and procedures to ensure effective oversight of laboratory operations.

REALITY CHECK

In my opinion the most misunderstood – yet critical component — is in the area of field operations, which fall under JPAC – the military organization that conducts investigations, excavations and recoveries around the globe.  The ultimate goal is to bring home remains that will lead to identifications of MIA service members.  Currently, all remains are processed at JPACs Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) at Hickam AFB in Hawaii – most are identified by the scientists at the CIL, but with advances in DNA capability and when appropriate, more and more are sent to the AFDIL at Dover AFB in Delaware for identification.

JPAC also conducts exhumations, which are expected to increase over time, especially when DPMO updates policies related to exhumed remains.  In addition, JPAC facilitates the recovery of remains, handed over by foreign countries, that have been missing for decades and may belong to an American MIA.  All remains are unique, as is the process of identifying them.

MANDATE MADNESS

Many family members and government officials do not understand the nature of field operations, namely because the uniqueness factor comes into play once again.  Finding and identifying historic remains is very difficult, as is making the numbers of IDs to meet new government guidelines imposed by the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The NDAA included a mandate that JPACs lab produce 200 identifications annually by 2015, without paying attention to how the system works and the difficulty of executing such a broad-reaching mandate without sufficient resources across the board.  The idea may have been well-meaning, but it was poorly thought out and, in some ways, led us to where we are now.

SUCCESS IN THE FIELD

What the operational teams do in the field is nothing short of amazing.  Imagine conducting a recovery in an Alaskan glacier, related to a 1952 Korean War missing aircraft; or finding pieces of aircraft and life support gear 150 ft. below the waters, off the coast of Vietnam — four decades after it crashed.  Contrary to what may appear in some recounts of these missions, JPAC is actively involved in the process.

SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM (May 27, 2011) - A Vietnamese Naval Officer, left, learns about the USNS Bowditch from the ship's Captain and another crew member during an ongoing investigation off the coast of Vietnam. The USNS Bowditch is a Pathfinder Class oceanographic research ship which uses specialized sonar to survey the ocean's floor, searching for U.S. aircraft lost during the Vietnam War.    (JPAC photo by DON civilian Ron Ward/Released)

SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM (May 27, 2011) – A Vietnamese Naval Officer, left, learns about the USNS Bowditch from the ship’s Captain and another crew member during an ongoing investigation off the coast of Vietnam. The USNS Bowditch is a Pathfinder Class oceanographic research ship which uses specialized sonar to survey the ocean’s floor, searching for U.S. aircraft lost during the Vietnam War. (JPAC photo by DON civilian Ron Ward/Released)

Our military and experts from other countries or disciplines provide critical support for many  operations, beyond boots-on-the-ground.  They bring with them specially-equipped ships to look for off shore crashes, while others bring innovative equipment.  There is so much that goes on behind the scenes, often not producing immediate success, but slow is not “no” in the recovery business.

We have hundreds of thousands of people who have gone missing in America, never to be found — even when the case was hot and generated a lot of hype and searches; JPAC field teams go out and find our missing service members (some from nearly a century ago), working on cold cases in some of the most horrific conditions in foreign countries, and yet we seem more interested in denouncing instead of crediting them.

MIA EDUCATION

It is never going to be easy to find our MIAs.  No one knows the actual number of missing service members due to historic recordkeeping, particularly during the WWII era, nor do we really know how many are recoverable; however, the effort to bring home remains of our loved ones is as much a part of military lore as it is a part of our nation’s promise to help MIA families find closure.

As our nation becomes more disconnected from the military, it is obvious that stories and TV coverage about the MIA situation often lack credibility, because fewer people understand what death in combat is like — never mind historical combat. They do not know how bodies go missing on the battlefield; how aircraft from wars in different eras result in different types of crashes.  And how in-country geographic conditions can vary, making it impossible to say that a piece of ground penetrating equipment that works in one area will do likewise in another.

And when field teams are armed with poorly prepared case data, as can exist in WWII cases, the results can be costly on several levels.  Finding a former enemy’s remains does not lead to closure for a family back in the states, and JPAC ends up eating the cost of a very time intensive excavation.

The need for solutions oriented software may finally find its way to the accounting community — in my opinion this will be a key element in any plan.

MAKING GOOD CHOICES

Although Lumpkin has not been involved in the global MIA effort, his credentials are impressive, especially as they apply to his military career.  Lumpkin spent time in Iraq, Afghanistan, Horn of Africa and the Philippines.  He also held top leadership positions throughout his distinguished SEAL career.

Michael Lumpkin, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, former naval officer, Seal Team ommander.

Michael Lumpkin

I am confident that Lumpkin will come up with a solid, realistic plan.  Where it goes from there remains to be seen.

There are so many moving parts to this huge undertaking that placing emphasis in the right area will be difficult but not impossible.    Above all, we have the greatest military in the world, and with proper support and budget, they are well-positioned to take care of their own.  I hope Hagel and Lumpkin agree.

We all want the same thing — to bring home our MIAs from former battlefields.  It is what America does, and we don’t give up.

Leave a Reply