The early grades are mostly positive for retired LTG Michael S. Linnington, the first director of the newly formed Department of Defense Prisoner Of War/Missing In Action Accounting Agency (DPAA) who was appointed six months ago. The challenges confronting him range from international diplomatic relations with prior enemies, to coping with mundane bureaucratic issues within the federal government and sometimes cranky, vociferous groups of veterans and families of MIAs.

The first challenge that Linnington confronted under the new plan instituted by former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was to consolidate three previous federal operations into the DPAA: the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) based in the D.C. area; the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) based in Hawaii, where the forensic laboratories are located and where the search teams are launched for missions to recover unaccounted-for American remains; and the Air Force’s Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

On January 30, the JPAC and DPMO colors were cased during formal ceremonies, and the DPAA was formally activated. On July 27, 2016, the new DPAA building and facility in Hawaii will be dedicated. Since Linnington took command on June 19, he has brought new energy and a renewed commitment to the federal government’s efforts to research, locate, and return to the United States the 25,000–32,000 recoverable remains of U.S. service members.

The annual accounted-for number has become a controversial issue both internally and with outside groups, as there are more than 83,000 Americans still listed as unaccounted for or otherwise missing in action from prior conflicts, including World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. However, people familiar with the POW/MIA issue estimate that between 25,000 and 32,000 service members from previous wars can still be recovered, as approximately 51,000 are listed as over-water missing in action—both Navy personnel from ships and all aviation losses over water since WWII.

SOFREP reported in July that Linnington faced additional major challenges:

  • Improving agency morale
  • Changing WWII priority of previous administration to Vietnam War missing in action, where there are still 1,624 Americans listed as MIA
  • Improving communications
  • Improving agency links with Laos and Vietnam. Cambodia has been cooperative in the last decade.
  • Supporting an effort to renew and restore the work of the old U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIA Affairs.

“Director Linnington faces formidable challenges,” said Rick Estes, president of the 3,000-member Special Operations Association, whose members served in the secret war conducted far from public view, between 1964–1972, during the Vietnam War. “Imagine simply being given the task of bringing together three separate, deeply entrenched federal agencies into one motivated, straight-ahead program. In addition, Director Linnington has traveled around the world visiting with key countries involved in the POW/MIA issue. He has stated for the record that Vietnam MIAs are a top priority and that he’s going to be in this game for 10 years as DPAA director. That’s solid leadership.”

SOA Member Mike Taylor, chairman of the SOA’s POW/MIA Committee, said, “The openness of the new DPAA regime under Director Linnington is both welcome and informative. Under his leadership, the DPAA has taken over the functions of the monthly briefings while welcoming veterans groups such as the SOA into monthly forums and family briefings to stay abreast of the latest developments in this area. Questions get answered. That’s refreshing.”

Ann Mills-Griffiths, chairman of the Board of Directors for the National League of POW/MIA Families added, “We’re all awaiting results from the ‘complete reorganization’ directed by former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. While in-country operations have continued, family members, veterans and staff are all awaiting critical decisions on priorities and staffing that will determine the agency’s success or failure. Tentative signs are positive, including Director Linnington’s first trip to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, but patience, already in short supply, is required.