DPAA’s mission to identify 81,000 MIA/POWs

As director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), retired Air Force Major Gen. Kelly McKeague is driven to recover the tens of thousands of American servicemembers listed as missing. 

McKeague, the special guest on this week’s American Legion Tango Alpha Lima podcast, discusses his passion for DPAA’s mission, the process from search to proper burial and how advancements in DNA technology are helping the process and more. 

He assumed the director position Sept. 5, 2017, and is responsible for policy, control and oversight of all aspects of DPAA’s program to account for America’s missing service personnel. He leads DoD’s worldwide enterprise of research, investigation, recovery and identification operations, and supporting functions, in order to provide the fullest possible accounting of our missing personnel to their families and to the nation.

“This is generational grieving,” he said. “I’ve been associated with this mission for 10 years, three in uniform, seven as a civilian. Naively, I thought families surely would have moved on. They have not. In addition to families, veterans have a void in heart and mind from the loss.”

DPAA is currently working on identifying veterans from the Global War on Terrorism all the way back to World War II. “Within that, the numbers are staggering — 81,000 Americans missing from past conflicts,” he emphasizes, adding that they estimate 38,000 to be recoverable.

In December 2015, McKeague culminated a 34-year career in the U.S. Air Force, retiring as a major general. In his last two assignments, he served as the first deputy director of the newly established DPAA, and before that as the commander of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

McKeague is motivated by the families of the missing.

“They know the stories, they know the laughters, it’s all been passed down through generations,” he says. “It’s as if when you are speaking to them, you are speaking to the servicemember or his mother. It’s extraordinary.”

The complicated work takes months, years and sometimes even decades to produce a resolution.

“These are hard cases,” McKeague says. “If they were easy, they would have been found shortly after the conflicts ended.”

He also praised The American Legion and Legion Riders for their role in honoring the sacrifice of recovered servicemembers.

“The Legion — at the grassroots community level — does extraordinary work,” he says. “I have not been to many funerals of an MIA coming home where I haven’t seen the Legion Riders come up en masse, where the Legion comes forward and offers assistance to the family.”

Also, co-hosts Stacy Pearsall, Joe Worley and Adam Marr talk about:

• College students who are assisting the U.S. in repatriation efforts.

• POW-MIA servicemembers from the Cold War.

• The only Coast Guard member to receive the Medal of Honor.

• The story behind the creation of taps.

Check out this week’s episode, which is among more than 240 Tango Alpha Lima podcasts available in both audio and video formats here. You can also download episodes on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or other major podcast-hosting sites. The video version is available at the Legion’s YouTube channel.