On the night of March 21, 2011, a U.S. F-15E fight jet crashed in Libya while participating in Operation Odyssey Dawn, the air campaign against Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

The pilot and weapons officer managed to eject but were stranded in enemy territory. Within just a few hours, friendly forces had recovered both.

Behind that seemingly easy operation was a little-known Pentagon agency that specializes in personnel recovery.

Created in 1999, the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) is responsible for the return of U.S. troops and government employees stuck in isolated spots or in harm’s way.

The JPRA is also the Pentagon’s clearinghouse for all things related to personnel recovery, including Combat Search and Rescue and Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE), as well as providing specialized training to high-risk personnel, such as pilots and special operators.

Air Force Survival Evasion Resistance Escape SERE
A U.S. airman finds his location on a map with a SERE cadre member during a Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape course at Camp Bullis in Texas, August 17, 2015. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Chad Chisholm/U.S. Air Force)

In addition to training and expertise, the JPRA is also responsible for developing and publishing personnel-recovery doctrine and for working with allied and partner militaries on related matters.

“We have debriefed all the prisoners of war, evaders, and detainees from Vietnam onward. We also have anecdotal information from Korea, World War II, and World War I to help us with doctrine and training,” a retired JPRA officer told Insider.

The JPRA is composed of a mix of civilians and military personnel, with heavy Air Force representation.