These days, you can’t go anywhere without running into a black POW/MIA flag. Before I spent time in Personnel Recovery (PR)m , I often wondered what it meant beyond conjuring images of Rambo blasting his way into a Vietnamese POW a decade-plus after the end of the Vietnam War. Having spent a fair amount of time on the occasionally (but often not really) sharp end of PR, I have a decent grasp on what it takes to account for our people. It makes sense – as operators, we know that accountability is either Job #1, or #1a, situation-dependent of course. And if tactically, accountability is on our minds so often, it stands to reason that idea of accountability translates to the operational and strategic level. For every hostage rescue, and post-contact missing soldier, there are hundreds of men who simply disappeared from the battlefield whose families await closure.
Enter the Joint Personnel Accounting Command (JPAC) and the Defense Missing in Action / Prisoners of War Office (DPMO). I like to think of JPAC as an operational extension of the strategic-level DPMO. DPMO sets policy; JPAC is one entity responsible for executing said policy. To me, it is a representation of our highest contract between citizens and soldiers of the United States: We will not leave you behind.
So it was with great frustration that I read last year’s AP report on JPAC. Followed closely by an NBC expose’ on staged remains repatriations, it was certainly eye-opening.
But first, let me state that having seen these types of “objective” studies by outside entities, I always cast a critical eye upon them. There are always agendas, folks. I recall at one point reading through a PR study that simply reeked of agenda. Combing through the list of names involved with the study, I realized that there were several “contractors” with known positions on a certain aspects of the mission. It was no surprise, then, to witness statistical manipulation and a conclusions that that supported known agendas.