Until They Are Home…
The topic was a grim, but fascinating one, and Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Rouse did an admirable job describing his experiences in assisting with the identification and recovery of U.S. servicemen lost to war and conflicts.
Lt. Col. Rouse, who serves as the Operations Officer with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), is the son of David and Ruth Rouse of Emmetsburg. He spoke last Thursday at the Emmetsburg VFW, sharing accounts of his travels around the globe in search of unaccounted for service people.
Rouse was visibly emotional as he referred to the Command’s motto of: “Until They Are Home.”
“Your nation will go anywhere in the world to find a service member,” he said. “No other country in the world does what we do to bring our service people home.”
Past missions have taken the Command to the sites of such conflicts as Jonestown (1978), Beirut Marine Barracks Bombing (1983), U.S.S. Stark Missile Attack (1987), and the U.S.S. Iowa Explosion (1989)–just to name a few.
“Today, our primary focus is the finding and recovery of remains of MIAs (Missing in Action) from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. We have even made identifications as far back as the Civil War,” explained Rouse. “The cases we work on are all historical in nature.”
The Command normally conducts 40 to 45 investigations each year, and performs 52 excavations annually. A typical mission can take anywhere from 25 to 75 days.
When Rouse displays a map of the globe, there are not many places that the Command hasn’t been in their search for U.S. service people. The Command will also search for missing Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) people as well as military deserters.
According to Rouse, JPAC’s key tasks include research and analysis, negotiations, field investigations, identification, and excavation.
After research is completed to determine the probable location of an MIA, an Investigative Team is sent to the site to uncover even more information. The Investigative Team includes: a Team Leader (military officer), Recovery Leader (a PhD anthropologist/archeologist), Team Sergeant (responsible for logistics, combat arms), Intelligence Analysts (military who conduct interviews), a Linguist (fluent in languages that relate to each case), Medic (usually a Special Forces medic), Explosive Ordinance Disposal Tech, and Specialty Skills (mountaineer, driver, etc.).
If the Investigative Team uncovers enough evidence, the site is then referred to the JPAC Recovery Team, which is responsible for unearthing the remains and transporting them to the U.S.
The Recovery Team includes those individuals on the Investigative Team in addition to: Mortuary Affairs Technicians, Life SupportTechnicians,Photographer, and a Communications Specialist.
Each returning service member’s remains are honored with a repatriation ceremony before being sent to the Central Identification Lab (CIL). CIL is the largest skeletal identification lab in the world. Rouse noted that the television series “CSI” based their laboratory scenes on research of JPAC and the CIL.
The Lab is charged with the task of identifying the remains through the use of such methods as dental records and DNA. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has proven useful in identifying these lost soldiers. Such mtDNA is passed directly from mother to child, which is helpful in identification since nearly all people from the same maternal line have the same mtDNA sequences.
Every month, approximately six Americans’ remains are identified and returned to family members for burial. Each is given a funeral with full military honors.
Rouse shared that in the coming year, deployments are scheduled for Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), India, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Europe, Republic of Korea, China, Tarawa. He notes that this list will likely expand in 2010.
“We are the only group allowed to make agreements with all foreign national governments,” said Rouse. “We’re not always successful, but at least we can confirm or deny that our person in question was there.”
Just how many service people are still missing? Among the unaccounted for are: one from the Gulf War, 120 from the Cold War, 1,730 from the Vietnam War, 8,042 from the Korean War, and 73,637 from World War II. Currently, over 1,500 Americans have been identified and returned home.