Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command
The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (often referred to as JPAC) is a joint task force within the United States Department of Defense (DOD) whose mission is to account for Americans who are listed as Prisoners Of War (POW), or Missing In Action (MIA), from all past wars and conflicts. It has been especially visible in conjunction with the Vietnam War POW/MIA issue. The mission of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command is to achieve the fullest possible accounting of all Americans missing as a result of the nation's past conflicts. The motto of JPAC is “Until they are home”.
JPAC is a standing joint task force within the United States Pacific Command. Its headquarters is located at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii. In DOD terminology, “joint” means the organization comprises members from two or more Military Departments (Army, Navy,or Air Force).
JPAC maintains three permanent overseas detachments and two local detachments devoted to the ongoing tasks of POW/MIA accounting. Each detachment is under the command of a field grade officer of the United States armed forces.
- Detachment 1 – Bangkok, Thailand (American Embassy in Thailand)
- Detachment 2 – Hanoi, Vietnam
- Detachment 3 – Vientiane, Laos
- Detachment 4 – Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Oahu, Hawaii; this detachment is the home base of the recovery teams when they are not deployed
- HQ Detachment – Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Oahu, Hawaii; this detachment is responsible for the day to day administrative operation of the command
- The laboratory portion of JPAC is referred to as the Central Identification Laboratory (CIL).
JPAC is commanded by a flag officer (formerly U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Donna L. Crisp; currently Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Tom (since 29 Jan 2010)). It is staffed by approximately 400 soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and Department of the Navy civilians.
- 1973: The DOD established the Central Identification Laboratory–Thailand to coordinate POW/MIA recovery efforts in Southeast Asia.
- 1976: The DOD established the Central Identification Laboratory–Hawaii to search for, recover, and identify missing Americans from all previous conflicts.
- 1992: The Joint Task Force–Full Accounting was established to focus on achieving the fullest possible accounting of American missing from the Vietnam War.
- 2002: DOD determined that POW/MIA recovery efforts would be best served by combining the two Central Identification Laboratories and the Joint Task Force.
- 1 October 2003: The Joint POW/MIA Accounting command was established under the auspices of the Commander, Pacific Command (CDRUSPACOM).
JPAC’s operations are divided into four areas: Analysis and Investigation, Recovery, Identification, and Closure.
Analysis and investigation
JPAC investigates leads concerning Americans who were killed in action but were never brought home. This process involves close coordination with other U.S. agencies involved in the POW/MIA issue. JPAC carries out technical negotiations and talks with representatives of foreign governments around the world in order to ensure positive in-country conditions are maintained or created for JPAC investigative and recovery operations wherever JPAC teams deploy in the world. If enough evidence is found, a site will be recommended for recovery.
JPAC has 18 Recovery Teams whose members travel throughout the world to recover missing from past wars. A typical recovery team is made up of 10 to 14 people, led by a team leader and a forensic anthropologist. Other members of the team typically include a team sergeant, linguist, medic, life support technician, forensic photographer, RF systems communications technician/operator and an explosive ordnance disposal technician. Additional experts are added to the mission as needed, such as mountaineering specialists or divers.
The team carefully excavates the site and screens the soil to locate all possible remains and artifacts. In the case of an airplane crash, a recovery site may be quite large.
Once the recovery effort is completed, the team returns to Hawaii. All remains and artifacts found during the recovery operation are then transported from a U.S. military plane to JPAC’s Central Identification Laboratory.
Upon arrival at the laboratory, all remains and artifacts recovered from a site are signed over to the custody of the CIL and stored in a secure area. Forensic anthropologists carefully analyze all remains and artifacts to determine the sex, race, age at death, and height of the individual. Anthropologists may also analyze trauma caused at or near the time of death and pathological conditions of bone such as arthritis or previous healed breaks. Lab scientists use a variety of techniques to establish the identification of missing Americans, including analysis of skeletal and dental remains, sampling mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), and analyzing material evidence, personal effects, aviation life-support equipment (gear used by aircrew: helmets, oxygen masks, harnesses, etc.), or other military equipment.
Often, recovered military and personal equipment artifacts are forwarded to the USAF Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory (LSEL, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in Dayton, OH), for advanced scientific and historical analysis. The LSEL (a highly unique scientific facility within the US and the world) is singularly qualified to scientifically study recovered military equipment artifacts and determine critical forensic aspects, to include, but not limited to: number of unaccounted for personnel represented at the loss site (i.e. 2 aviators), branch of military service represented (i.e. Navy), vehicle type represented (i.e. F-4 aircraft type), time frame represented (i.e. c. 1967), and represented levels of non-survivability or survivability (i.e. any evidence of fatal/non-fatal status). Frequently, the LSEL is able to provide crucial case determinations (through analysis of recovered equipment artifacts) when other critical evidence (such as human remains: bone or teeth) is not recovered or available, and/or does not yield any substantial conclusions through testing (i.e. DNA testing).
The recovery and identification process may take years to complete. In addition to the factors previously mentioned, each separate line of evidence must be examined at the CIL (bones, teeth, and material evidence) and correlated with all historical evidence. All reports undergo a thorough peer review process that includes an external review by independent experts. Additionally, if mtDNA is part of the process, the search for family reference samples for mtDNA comparison can add a significant amount of time to the identification process. Completed cases are forwarded to the appropriate service Mortuary Affairs office, whose members personally notify next-of-kin family members.
JPAC conducts a number of missions each year in its ongoing efforts. The missions per year for individuals missing for each war:
- Korean War: 5 missions
- Vietnam War (including Southeast Asia): 10 missions
- World War II and the Cold War: 10 missions
In 2007 a JPAC team led by Maj. Sean Stinchon visited Iō-tō (formerly Iwo Jima) to hunt for the remains of Marine Sergeant Bill Genaust. He was the Marine combat photographer (motion picture cameraman) who was standing next to Joe Rosenthal, who filmed the Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima during the World War II invasion of the island. The team identified two possible cave entrances that may contain Genaust's remains. The JPAC team hopes to return and properly search the tunnels to possibly locate the remains of Sergeant Genaust, and those of other unaccounted for Marines.
2013 evaluation, reports, and investigations into JPAC
An internal JPAC report, obtained by the Associated Press in July 2013, cited JPAC's management as being inept, mismanaged, and wasteful, to the extent that it could worsen from "dysfunction to total failure". In the Associated Press story's words, the report says “the decades-old pursuit of bones and other MIA evidence is sluggish, often duplicative and subjected to too little scientific rigor”. The report notes that the JPAC Command is “woefully inept and even corrupt”. The report notes that in recent years the process by which the JPAC Laboratory field recovery teams gathers bones and other material useful for identifications has “collapsed” and is now “acutely dysfunctional.” The report concludes that absent prompt and significant change, “the descent from dysfunction to total failure … is inevitable.” It accused the Command of maintaining inadequate databases of missing personnel, relying on unreliable maps, wasting money on unnecessary and useless travel and drastically failing to achieve targets set by the U.S. Congress. It said the organization paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars to North Korea to "recover" the remains of fallen U.S. servicemen whose bodies had been planted on former battlefields, and even used as laboratory skeletons. In the report is was revealed that the average length of time for the JPAC laboratory to identify casualties increased from slightly over 4 years in 2005 to 11 years in 2011 for each set of remains that are recovered.
A contrary viewpoint, expressed by author Wil S. Hylton, holds that while the command has suffered from bureaucratic tendencies, "it is flat-out wrong to dismiss the work of JPAC as a failure. For every instance in which the unit moves more slowly than it could, there are many cases where JPAC field teams have delivered answers to a family that would otherwise be lost forever."
NBC News also revealed during 2013 that, for years, the U.S. government has been fabricating phony "arrival ceremonies" during which the honored dead soldiers from the former battlefields were seemingly transported to their homeland by a cargo plane, but were actually not in existence at all. In addition, being towed into adequate positions, the planes used in the ceremonies often could not fly. This was confirmed by both the Department of Defense and the JPAC team with the explanations that "part of the ceremony involves symbolically transferring the recovered remains from an aircraft" and "static aircraft are used for the ceremonies".
As of 4 December 2012:
- World War II: 73,677
- Korean War: 7,938
- Vietnam War: 1,655
- Cold War: 126
- Iraq and other conflicts: 6
- Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan War): 1 – Sergeant Bowe R. Bergdahl
- Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office
- Vietnam War POW/MIA issue
- National League of Families
- List of United States servicemembers and civilians missing in action during the Vietnam War (1961-65)
- List of United States servicemembers and civilians missing in action during the Vietnam War (1966–67)
- List of United States servicemembers and civilians missing in action during the Vietnam War (1968–69)
- List of United States servicemembers and civilians missing in action during the Vietnam War (1970–71)
- List of United States servicemembers and civilians missing in action during the Vietnam War (1972–75)
- "JPAC mission statement". Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.[dead link]
- "Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC)". Embassy of the United States: Bangkok, Thailand. U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 14 December 2012.
- "Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command". Embassy of the United States: Hanoi, Vietnam. U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 14 December 2012.
- Associated Press. "'Until They are Home:' Iwo Jima search latest in U.S. effort to account for all MIAs". Retrieved 9 July 2007.
- Lucas, Dean. "Famous Pictures Magazine – Iwo Jima". Retrieved 9 July 2013.
- "Internal report calls MIA accounting work 'acutely dysfunctional,' could fail". The Washington Post. Associated Press. July 7, 2013. Retrieved 8 July 2013.
- Wil S. Hylton (July 11, 2013). "Op-Ed: Missing in Action, but Not Forever". The New York Times. p. A21.
- "PENTAGON UNIT HELD "PHONY" CEREMONIES FOR MIA’S, USING PLANES THAT CAN’T FLY". NBC News. October 10, 2013.
- "JPAC admits to phony ceremonies honoring 'returning' remains". Stars and Stripes. October 10, 2013.
- "PENTAGON TAKES "SECOND LOOK" AT EMBATTLED MIA UNIT". Associated Press. July 9, 2013.
- "ALLEGED FRAUD AND WASTE IN MIA UNIT TO BE PROBED BY PENTAGON". Fox News. August 1, 2013.
- "SENATE COMMITTEE REVIEWS DEFENSE DEPARTMENT’S MISSING PERSONNEL OFFICES". CSPAN. August 1, 2013.
- Summary Statistics, Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), 4 December 2012
- "Service Personnel Not Recovered Following WWII". Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO). 28 November 2012.
- Personnel Missing - Korea (PMKOR), (Unaccounted For), Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), 11 December 2012
- U.S. Unaccounted-For from the Vietnam War: Prisoners of War, Missing in Action and Killed in Action/Body not Recovered (Sorted by Name), Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), 19 September 2012
- DPMO Coldwar Report - Sorted on Name, Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), 17 September 2012
- Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command
- PDF brochure for Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, 2006
- Snyder, Rachel Louise (February–March 2005). "MIA: A search begun in a Washington, D.C., boardinghouse 140 years ago continues today as a $100-million-a-year effort to reunite the U.S. military and American families with their missing soldiers". American Heritage 56 (1).
- Mather, Paul D. (1994). M.I.A.: accounting for the missing in Southeast Asia. National Defense University Press. ISBN 9780160363917. LCC DS559.8.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.|
- "The Vietnam-Era Prisoner-of-War/Missing-in-Action Database". Library of Congress. November 2012.