BATTLE CREEK, Mich. –
The U.S. military has carried out operations around the world but in some unfortunate cases the whereabouts of servicemembers participating in those missions became unknown.
The Defense Logistics Agency Logistics Information Services, the Department of Defense Demilitarization Coding Management Office and the Defense Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Accounting Agency partner to solve MIA cases of U.S. servicemembers worldwide.
Searching for missing personnel from past conflicts – dating back to World War II – the DPAA is constantly working to locate the nearly 81,500 Americans who are estimated to remain missing or lost at sea.
“A lot of times there are still investigations going on still to find POWs or MIA servicemembers,” DDCMO Chief Mark Hubbart said. “Individuals are going to locations such as Vietnam to visit crash sites or other areas where that servicemember may have last been.”
The DPAA team members work in conjunction with Hubbart’s team to solve these types of investigations by examining crash sites, conducting eyewitness interviews and examining remnants from crash sites. Wreckage analyst teams travel to a location and spend 45 days or more searching for wreckage and remains.
“We investigate last know locations from Wing Men War Reports and take advantage of local knowledge and eyewitnesses to guide the team to crash sites,” said Howie Mariteragi, a DPAA wreckage analyst and life support investigator. “We mostly extract data and material evidence to make a correlation to a known aircraft loss so a recovery team can follow and excavate the location in search for osseous remains. Our job is looking for pieces and parts that I can identify and say ‘yes, this is definitely an F-4.’”
One such case involves the current investigation of a crash site in Vietnam where DPAA is currently searching to identify and locate missing personnel in the area. There was multiple eyewitness accounts of different aircraft crashing in the area and there is also physical evidence indicating multiple crash sites within a 2-kilometer radius.
The search of this area led to the discovery of two fan blades from an aircraft engine. While this is a small part, it was more than enough for the members of DDCMO working the case.
“They’ll find scrap pieces and in this case some fan blades were found,” said Nick Barney, a DDCMO program analyst. “We needed to figure out what aircraft these fan blades went to, and I was provided part numbers from the two fan blades that they found at the crash site. Each part number was assigned a stock number that identified it as being used as part of a specific engine. I was then able to find engineering drawings for those part numbers to verify this.”
Through this verification process the team was able to verify the crash site belonged to an U.S. Air Force A-4C – and may bring investigators one step closer to identifying the location of our missing servicemembers. The partnership between DLA’s analyst team and the DPAA program is one that has gone on for the past 30 years and will continue.
“DLA is invaluable to our research,” Mariteragi said. “I was assigned to this mission in 1998 and DLA has always been an important part of our investigation process. The start of the partnership includes 1992 – the year this mission was congressionally mandated.”
While this process is time consuming, Mariteragi went on to say he and his team will continue to search for missing personnel.
“However long it takes until we find them,” Mariteragi said. “That’s the type of mindset we have. We may not find them during this mission, but we are going to continue looking. We never want to say there is nothing else we can do.”