POW/MIA Accounting Command rep: Agency merger is working.

Defense POW/MIA Accounting Command deputy updates American Legion national convention on his agency’s progress since 2015 overhaul.

More than 83,000 U.S. servicemembers still remain classified as either prisoners of war or missing in action. The Department of Defense agency tasked with locating and returning them – Defense POW/MIA Accounting Command (DPAA) – knows returning all of them is likely impossible, but since undergoing a major overhaul that mission has become more streamlined and effective.

That was the message delivered by Johnie Webb, deputy to the DPAA Commander for External Relations and Legislative Affairs, to The American Legion National Convention Aug. 27 in Cincinnati. Speaking to the Legion’s National Security Commission, Webb said a merger between the former Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office, the Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command and the Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory in January 2015 already has paid off.
“All those agencies were involved previously, but under different commands,” he said. “So while we might have had unity of effort, we did not have unity of commander. With this merger, we do have unity of command … and (we’re) able to move forward with everybody pulling their same weight.”

In January 2016, DPAA became fully operational capable. A deputy director for Operations oversees efforts in Asia Pacific, Europe, and efforts both stateside and in forward operations throughout the world.

This year, DPAA is performing missions in 18 countries with 26 investigation teams and 57 recovery teams. The agency expects to identify 160-180 missing personnel. Forty-three of 388 U.S.S. Oklahoma remains previous buried as unknown at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific were disinterred and then identified as of Aug. 17.

“That’s what’s happening today,” Webb said. “We can do this identification of these 388 within five years. We think we’re ahead of the plan now and can do it sooner than that.” Webb said it’s realistic to think that of the remaining POW-MIAs, approximately 28,000-30,000 will be recovered. To help achieve that goal, DPAA has partnered with various outside organizations, foreign governments and others. DPAA eventually will be issuing grants to supporting organizations and private entities, “which I think is going to bring even more partnerships on board for us to begin working with,” Webb said. “As we try to expand so we can do more with less – because again, everybody’s downsizing – we’re looking to those partnerships. We’ve been successful, and we think we’ll be even more successful.”

As recently as its 2015 national convention, The American Legion reiterated its position on U.S. POWs and MIAs, calling for “the fullest possible accounting for all U.S. military personnel and designated civilian personnel missing and unaccounted for from our nation’s wars and conflicts.” The Legion also will again participate in the National POW-MIA Recognition Day ceremony Sept. 16 in Washington, D.C.

“Thank you, The American Legion, for all that you do for our veterans – and, more specifically, all that you do for the POW-MIA issue in keeping it in the forefront of our nation,” Webb said.