The PFC Lawrence Gordon Foundation Inc

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BRIEF HISTORY OF THE US ACCOUNTING COMMUNITY

The Department of Defense Accounting Community is made up of several related but independent organizations. In January of 2015 the primary organizations including the Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) located in D.C. Metropolitan area; the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), in Hawaii;  and US Air Force Life Science Equipment Laboratory (LSEL) located at Wright Patterson AFB Dayton OH were merged into the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) at the request of congress following a series of bad media reports and congressional hearings. Additionally each Service has a Service Casualty Office various locations and  the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) in located Dover DE;

 

Much of the current structure came about in response to the activism of the families of the missing during and after the Vietnam War. The first Activists efforts (beginning around 1965-67) to bring public attention to the Prisoners of War and Missing in Action (POW/MIA)  were the wives and families of the missing.  Specifically Mrs. Stockdale in California, and on the east coast Evelyn Grubb and Mary Crowe.  Eventually by 1969 the various groups of wives and family members managed to get the government to change the official stance on the POW/MIA issue and to be more proactive in the efforts to recover and return U.S. Service members.  This loose collection of proactively engaged families was incorporated into the League of National Families (The League) in 1970. 

 

Shortly after "Operation Homecoming" in January of 1973 the Department of Defense (DoD)  established the Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) in Thailand to coordinate additional recovery efforts for POW/MIA in Southeast Asia.  The Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii was established by DoD in 1976 and included the mission to search for, recover and identify missing Americans from all previous conflicts.

 

The League continued to push for more efforts to be done on behalf of the Missing. Even seemingly small actions took on great significance and help bring public attention to this cause; the spread of the POW/MIA bracelets as well as the display of the POW/MIA Flag, first by the U.S. Post Office and then increasingly by other Federal Government organizations and private citizens, helped to raise public awareness of the issue throughout the early 70s and 80s.  The 80’s saw a split in the League and the formation of a second group of activists: the National Alliance of Families For the Return of America's Missing Servicemen. The two groups differ in approaches both in policy and diplomacy, especially concerning Vietnam--additionally The Alliance believe there are still living POW/MIA in Southeast Asia.

 

The activities and political pressure that the families of the missing were able to exert throughout the late 70s and the 80s; the increasing public awareness as well as emotional attachment this cause engendered, eventually caused the Government to convene a special committee: The Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs.  The Committee was ongoing from August of 1991 until January of 1993.  Concurrent with and a result of the hearings and the findings of the Committee, DoD first established "The Joint Task Force–Full Accounting (JFA-FA)" in 1992 also in Hawaii near the CIL.  The mission of JFA-FA was to focus on achieving the "Fullest Possible Accounting" of American Missing from the Vietnam War.   Immediately after The Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs concluded and presented its findings in 1993 the Defense Prisoner of War Missing Persons Office (DPMO) was created.  

 

Many of the positions used to create the new organization were culled out of the Defense Intelligence Agency's (DIA) POW/MIA office and brought with them the same people who had been working the mission at DIA.  The concept was theoretically sound--in creating a new organization having the start up personnel with corporate knowledge is a good starting point--it can also be detrimental.  What was needed in 1993 was a completely fresh approach, with no preconceived notions or opinions formed by previous interactions with the League or the Alliance.   

 

Instead many of the people in the new DPMO, while dedicated to the mission and exceptionally well-trained analysts and linguists, intimately familiar with the cases; were set on a specific path for mission solutions and approaches that had served them well at DIA.  An intelligence organization however, has a different philosophy as to the use of information and the purpose of collection of data.  Transparency of action and communication of information and intent are not the strong point of Intelligence. But lack transparency of action and communication have been the complaint of the families of the missing going back at least to 1965.

 

DPMO and The Joint Task Force–Full Accounting in Hawaii both suffered from the fact that the personnel drawn to the organizations' civilian positions came from a small group of individuals who for the most part had come up in and around some aspect of the mission and were drawn to it.  The work continued throughout the 90’s and in 2002 DoD combined the CIL and the Joint Task Force in Hawaii putting both branches (Operational: recovery and analysis, & forensic Identification and lab work) under a military Commanding Officer.  

 

The Commander has a civilian Chief of Staff and a military Deputy Commander as well  as two other key positions held by civilians, Deputy to the Commander for External Relations and Legislative Affairs and Scientific Director & Deputy to the Commander for Central Identification Laboratory Operations. Although the organizations were combined there remains an autonomy of function, with neither the CIL nor the Operational personnel having a sense of integration with the other. In October of 2003 the combined organizations became "The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command"  (JPAC) established under the auspices of the Commander, Pacific Command (CDRUSPACOM).   

 

Throughout the history of these organizations the lack of communication is cited as one of the primary frustrations for the families and others interested in assisting with the recovery of the missing.  Because JPAC belonged to the Commander Pacific Command and DPMO belonged to the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy, neither organization could tell the other what to do.  And in order to make any changes one had to elevate an issue either to the Secretary of Defense then to the Secretary of the Navy or up to the Secretary of the Navy, then to the Secretary of Defense.  Added to this confusing command structure is the fact that each Service (Army, Navy, Marine Corps Air Force) and the Department of State has a Casualty Service Office--and with in the office individuals who work past conflicts. The Casualty Service Office is the primary liaison between the various Departments and families on the status of their case. 

Along with the Service Casualty Offices, and DPAA the other entities that play a part in the accounting for the missing are:

 

 1) AFDIL Under the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System (a separate chain of command from JPAC or DPMO).  The AFDIL team as part of the DoD and Services' focus on the POW/MIA mission, have been actively collecting maternal family reference samples since 1992 to help support efforts to identify military personnel whose remains have been recovered from Southeast Asia, Cold War, Korean War & since 2010 WW II.   

 

2) And The US/Russian Joint Commission (USRJC)  established in 1992 under an agreement between Presidents Bush and Yeltsin.  The JCSD though sharing space with DPAA in DC considers itself to independent of DPAA. JCSD along with an office at the US Embassy in Moscow provides administrative and analytic support to the U.S. side of the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission (USRJC) and conducts research in Russia on missing U.S. servicemen. JCSD also assists the Russians with efforts to account for their missing military personnel. 

 

Collectively these diverse organizations are the "Accounting Community" and work the POW/MIA mission.  Each organization while under the broad umbrella of DoD, has its own Chain of Command, its own budget and personnel constraints, its own philosophy and approach to problem solving and feels fiercely protective and defensive about its turf.    The external view that there is a lack of cooperation, collaboration between these organizations makes it confusing and daunting for an outsider to try to get information, but especially consistent information.  

 

Additionally there are other organizations like the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) at College Park, and Suitland MD, as well as the 17 Federal Records Centers in 9 regions across the US that play a large part in the flow of information for this mission.  Because the POW/MIA mission has become such a heartfelt issue for Americans everywhere and because there is no one organization responsible for the coordination or dissemination of information between the organizations and the families (although that should be the Casualty Offices, or DPAA) the families of the missing continue to feel frustration and confusion about the disposition of their individual cases.