The Defense Department is close to naming the second director of the recently formed Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency (DPAA), SOFREP has learned. In recent weeks, reliable sources have indicated that the field of candidates has been narrowed down to three people.

The wheels of change that lead to the formation of DPAA began rolling in early 2014, when then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel directed the undersecretary of defense for policy to provide recommendations for reorganizing the DoD’s efforts to account for missing personnel in our nation’s past conflicts.

Hagel said, “Finding, recovering, and identifying the remains of these individuals is one of our highest responsibilities, and I believed that DoD could more effectively and transparently account for our missing personnel while ensuring their families receive timely and accurate information.”

In 2015, the DPAA was formed through consolidation of three federal operations: the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), which was based in the D.C. area; the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) that remains 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, 2015 the JPAC colors were cased during a formal ceremony in Hawaii, after which the DPAA was formally activated. Rear Adm. Mike Franken, a former Navy legislative director, was appointed the interim commander until the new DPAA director was named in June 2015. LTG Mike Linnington was the first DPAA director appointed in June 2015 for what was advertised as a 10-year tour of duty with the fledging federal, merged agency. However, Linnington resigned in June after one year on the job, thus necessitating a search for a new director that continues today.

“Once again, Vietnam veterans and the families of our nations missing-in-action service members are in the awkward position of waiting for national leadership, during an election year no less, to find a new DPAA director,” said Rick Estes, president of the Special Operations Association, a veterans group composed of Green Berets who fought in the secret war conducted in Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam under the aegis of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG), and the airmen who supported the cross-border missions.

“Naturally, we share the concerns of all families from all wars who have loved ones missing in action from World War II, Korea or Vietnam,” said Estes. “But, our situation in Southeast Asia (SEA) has a heightened sense of urgency due to the acidic soil, which we’re told, by experts, is the most acidic in the world. That acidic soil is destroying not only the remains of our missing in action but it’s eating away at their bones and teeth, literally destroying the final, potential clues to their identity. Thus, our sense of urgency.”

Ann Mills-Griffiths, CEO and chairman of the National League of POW/MIA Families board of directors, said, “Selection of a qualified DPAA director is critical to increasing momentum before time runs out. That means being able to hit the ground running, someone who has earned the respect from the families, our nation’s veterans and, very importantly, the respect of U.S. and foreign officials whose cooperation and support are necessary and critical to reach accounting goals.”