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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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Posts Tagged ‘PACOM Deputy Commander Lt. Gen Thomas Conant’

MIA RECOVERIES: HOW MUCH IS A PROMISE WORTH?

Friday, March 1, 2013 @ 09:03 AM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

 

 The Vietnam Memorial Wall — most visited memorial in Washington, D.C.

For some people heavily engaged in social media where it seems everything is aired these days, the  doomsday prediction of sequestration is like theater – good actors, bad story. 

But for those of us with MIAs still unaccounted from past wars, such as the Vietnam War in my family’s case, sequestration could deal another blow to the recovery system which has suffered greatly throughout the decades for a variety of reasons, most notably the existence of different ideologies between the U.S. and other governments where the remains of our MIAs still exist.   

But these days, the culprit appears to be the unpredictability of our own government.  And while budget dilemmas have often been a problem with MIA operations, this time the cuts are running rampant throughout the entire military, which has ultimate responsibility for MIA recovery efforts.   Needless to say, sequestration must go!    It was a bad decision by U.S. leadership to even suggest the use of sequestration early-on, but now it is turning into a disaster,  hurting our military, core civil service employees and embarrassing our country on a global level.  

CHERRY PICKING

This blog is meant to be apolitical, but there are times when it is difficult to sit on the sidelines and see our country going in reverse – as in back to the 1960s when civil rights, women’s rights and the draft were justifiably in need of change, but our military took the brunt of those social battles and some see us headed in that direction again.   However, with today’s all-volunteer military, often serving multiple tours in high-threat war zones, it remains to be seen if the bravest among us will allow themselves to be used as pawns!  If ever there were a time to set an example that our active-duty military does count, it is now.   These are smart people who are watching closely at how we treat their retired and MIA counterparts, as well.

SEQUESTRATION — DANGEROUS POLITICS

While post-war drawdown is nothing new, the current situation [sequestration] seems downright dangerous.  Even more concerning is that many Americans nowadays are disengaged from the reality of war, including some of our elected officials.  With instability in the Middle East – not just Iraq and Afghanistan – along with areas in Asia Pacific flexing military muscle, it is difficult to talk about bringing home our loved ones from past wars when we’re having trouble spreading the wealth among those who are engaged in today’s military commitments.   

Yet, it is important to understand that the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) – the government organization that reports to the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) – plays an important role in our nation’s ongoing efforts to strengthen economic, political and security ties within Asia Pacific.  We need only look at recovery operations in Burma, which are underway, thanks in part to the success of humanitarian efforts in Vietnam.  But behind the scenes, our two countries are hoping this renewed relationship leads to a lot more.

KEEPING THE PROMISE

JPAC is tasked with the huge responsibility of finding and identifying MIAs from past wars, comprising what may be the largest, ongoing humanitarian effort ever conducted by the U.S.  With more than 80,000 MIAs still unaccounted for around the globe, it is believed that one-third of them may be recoverable and identified.  

However, sequestration has already begun to impact JPACs manpower and recovery operations, and if the situation does not improve soon, the outcome could be devastating to Vietnam War recoveries.  JPAC has taken some serious cuts to its budget but the worst is yet to come if furloughs are next — recovery/excavation operations will cease if they have to furlough civilians. 

According to current rules, JPAC would be required to arrange two furlough days every pay period (2 weeks), and since teams deploy for 35-45 days, they would not be able to deploy any anthropologists and operations would cease.  The clock is ticking in Vietnam War locations where acidic soil is rapidly degrading the remains of our loved ones; economic progress is moving faster than excavations; and Vietnamese witnesses to our wartime losses are dying off.   

What many people do not understand is that JPACs operations are largely military-to-military with support from a group of highly skilled civilian workers, most of whom are former military, as well.  Keeping boots on the ground in areas where our loved ones are still unaccounted for is an excellent way to support and solidify relationships that once seemed unthinkable. 

 

DPMO SETS THE RECORD STRAIGHT!

Friday, January 18, 2013 @ 10:01 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) “Q” Winfield, a retired Army Maj Gen and now head of DPMO, speaks to 200 attendees involved with MIAs still missing from WWII, Korean War and the Vietnam War.  The group was at the Bahia Hotel on Mission Bay in Diego, CA, for a Regional Family Update.

Seated in a large conference room on Jan 12th at the Bahia Hotel in San Diego, CA, with approximately 200 family members and officials, I suddenly remembered that the only other time I had been in that room was decades earlier while attending a Vietnamese wedding.  That’s another story in itself!

This time I was at the Bahia attending a Regional Family Update, organized by The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) for families with MIAs still unaccounted-for from the major past wars – I was there on behalf of my first husband, Capt. Jerry Zimmer, USMC, who perished in the Vietnam War when his F-4 Phantom jet was shot down on Aug 29, 1969, in the Que Son Mountains, 20 miles southwest of Danang. Jerry and his RIO, 1st Lt Al Graf, were attached to VMFA-542.  Lt Graf also perished in the crash. We are still hoping to recover Jerry’s and Al’s remains.

SHAKING THINGS UP

Thinking the San Diego meeting would  be strictly an overview of the accounting system with breakout sessions for families with unaccounted-for MIAs from WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War, I was surprised when  DASD “Q” Winfield gave us a wakeup call, explaining that the Central Identification Laboratory (CIL)—the only forensic lab of its type in the world with a mission to identify American MIAs from past wars—need no longer be concerned with the so-called mandate in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to produce 200 identifications annually by 2015.  In a nutshell, the mandate had called for doubling the number of IDs the CIL was currently averaging and maintaining that number from 2015 onward. Sounds easy, sounds great, but it was a misstep on both accounts.

The key word used by DASD Winfield in clarifying the misinterpretation was “capacity,” as in the lab only need show that it is building the capacity. Now it appears that the mandate from hell – apparently a mandate that never existed, is gone.   This will permit DASD Winfield to start off his tenure as the leader of DPMO with somewhat of a clean slate, since he inherited the policy that led to the controversial  defunct mandate for 200 identifications when he came aboard in mid 2012.  One of DPMOs primary roles is to make policy for the  Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), of which includes the CIL, and other DoD organizations within the accounting community.

SILVER LINING…

If there was an upside to the ill-conceived “mandate,” it was the elevation of the CILs status far beyond the forensic environment. Scientific Director Dr. Tom Holland finally received an infusion of much-needed cash to build a new facility, hire more anthropologists, open a satellite lab on the mainland and conduct a general overhaul of his operation.

Funding is key to finishing the job in all MIA locations around the world; however, the clock is running out in Vietnam War locations, and there is no doubt that our leaders understand the urgency.  And what — if anything — will change in the larger picture now that the need to produce 200 IDs is no longer a pressing issue could be cause for concern.  Although budget cuts seem inevitable, we hope the impact will be minimal.

KEEPING THE PROMISE!

  Those of us with MIAs in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are concerned about the lingering thought that Southeast Asia is being closely scrutinized for producing less bang for the buck, despite being budgeted for FY2013.  DASD Winfield praised Vietnamese officials during the conference for opening up new sites, providing more archival documents, etc., but was extremely concerned about the cost of “blade” time involved with the use of large, contracted MI 17 helicopters to move supplies and teams when conducting field operations.  We need the Vietnamese to reconsider their position on helicopter rates.

DASD Winfield and  JPAC Commander Maj Gen Kelly McKeague are seemingly well-suited for their positions.  Families with MIAs unaccounted for in Vietnam War locations are asking once again for reassurance that they will follow through on the promises made by President Obama and many other high ranking officials on the Hill to continue operations in Southeast Asia and work with involved countries to continue seeking archival material describing the whereabouts of those MIAs who have disappeared into the wartime abyss. 

MIA ADVOCATES

Thanks to the recent efforts in Southeast Asia of outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panneta; PACOMs current Commander Adm. Samuel Locklear and  Deputy Commander Lt Gen Tom Conant; DASD “Q” Winfield and JPAC Commander Maj Gen Kelly Mc Keague; and Family League Chairman Ann Mills Griffiths, we are moving in the right direction and the Vietnamese are responding.  Although trying to negotiate a more reasonable helicopter contract may not be easy, the Vietnamese should know that Americans have an old saying:  One good turn deserves another.