JPAC Command Video
The JPAC command video is a 15-minute overview of our mission and operations. The video is also available on YouTube.
Cold War … One hundred twenty five unaccounted for
Vietnam War … One thousand six hundred eighty two unaccounted for
Korean War … Seven thousand nine hundred eighty three unaccounted for
World War Two … Seventy three thousand seven hundred eighty seven unaccounted for
83,577* families … Waiting for answers. (As of October 2011)
Transition – POW/MIA logo dissolves into JPAC logo.
The numbers are staggering. Why do we keep searching? The answer is simple – you don’t leave a fallen American behind. The families deserve an answer.
The mission of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, or JPAC, is to achieve the fullest possible accounting of all Americans missing as a result of our Nation’s past conflicts.
The 425 person organization, commanded by a flag officer, is a jointly manned unit with handpicked Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, and Department of the Navy civilians with specialized skills. The laboratory portion of JPAC, referred to as the Central Identification Laboratory, or CIL, is the largest forensic skeletal laboratory in the world.
JPAC’s highest priority is to investigate all leads and tips in the search for any Americans who may still be alive and held against their will. To date, the U.S. government has not found any evidence that there are still American POWs in captivity from past U.S. conflicts.
The core of JPAC’s day-to-day operations involves searching for Americans who are missing in action but were never brought home. In order to return these missing in action to their families, JPAC follows three steps: one - analysis of case files & investigation of the suspected site; two - excavation of the site and recovery of any remains; and three – identification by JPAC’s central identification laboratory.
Finding, recovering, identifying and ultimately returning an individual to their family begins with analysis and investigation.
Research & Investigation
JPAC experts begin the search by studying all known information regarding the circumstances of each American MIA loss. Historians and analysts gather information from U.S. veterans, foreign witnesses, archival records and other sources.
Soundbite: Chris McDermott, JPAC Historian
Analysts then create a case file for each unaccounted-for American. This file may include historical records, official correspondence, maps, photographs, daily activity logs, and military medical and personnel records of the missing person. These files are continuously updated until an identification is made.
Once all available information is studied, a field investigation team deploys to survey potential recovery sites providing recovery teams with accurate and up-to-date information about a case prior to their arrival.
Soundbite: Capt. William Dobbins, U.S. Marine Corps, JPAC Investigative Team Leader
During a typical mission, teams interview potential witnesses, conduct on-site reconnaissance, and survey terrain for safety and logistical concerns. They also try to generate new leads that may result in future recoveries. But the main goal of the mission is to obtain enough information to correlate or connect a particular site with an MIA. If enough on-site evidence is found, the sites will be recommended for recovery and excavation, the second phase of returning an individual home.
Recovery & Excavation
JPAC’s recovery missions can last from 35 to 60 days, depending on the location, terrain and nature of the recovery. A typical recovery team is 10 to 14 personnel. A military officer serves as team leader, and is responsible for the safety of the team and logistical details. A forensic anthropologist from JPAC’s CIL serves as the recovery leader, and is responsible for overseeing the recovery process and all evidence gathering. Other team members include a senior team sergeant, linguist, medic, life support technician, forensic photographer, explosive ordnance disposal technician and other specialties tailored to the mission, such as divers or mountaineering specialists.
At a recovery, the anthropologist directs the excavation much like a detective oversees a crime scene.
Soundbite: Dr. Elizabeth Goodman, JPAC Forensic Anthropologist
Recovery sites range in size from a few square meters, such as in individual burials, to areas larger than football fields for aircraft crashes. To help with the massive soil removal effort, JPAC may hire anywhere from a few to over one hundred local workers.
Investigative and recovery missions in search of missing Americans take JPAC personnel to remote and often dangerous locations all over the globe. JPAC routinely carries out negotiations and talks with foreign governments to ensure safe and successful missions wherever JPAC deploys throughout the world… from 16,000 foot mountaintops in the Himalayas and underwater sites such as Lake Tunis and off the coast of Palau.
After a successful recovery, JPAC conducts an arrival ceremony at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii to honor those whose remains were recovered and who paid the supreme sacrifice in service to our nation.
Senior officers, veterans, community members and local active-duty military attend the ceremonies to pay their respects as the remains are transported from a U.S. military aircraft to JPAC’s Central Identification Laboratory.
This is the third and final step, leading to the return of an individual to their family.
Soundbite: Dr. Tom Holland, JPAC Central Identification Laboratory Director
Soundbite: Dr. Goodman
Any dental remains are examined by a forensic odontologist. Teeth are extremely important because an individual’s dental record is often the best means of ID.
Aircraft pieces, weapons, uniform items and personal effects gathered from the site also provide important clues. Once the identification process is complete, any personal items such as watches, wedding rings, medals, wallets, letters or photographs are returned to the family.
In about seventy percent of all cases, the final step in the identification process is DNA analysis.
Soundbite: Dr. Holland
One of the biggest challenges JPAC faces today is the lack of reference samples from family members of those still unaccounted for. Any person who is a relative of an unaccounted for American is encouraged to contact the MIA’s service casualty office to ensure there is a DNA reference sample on file for that service member.
JPAC only makes an identification when all available evidence – remains, artifacts, and historical documents – point to the same person. The ID process can take anywhere from a few months to several years to complete.
Soundbite: Dr. Holland
Any unresolved cases are kept open with the hope that new evidence will be found or new technologies will be developed to make a future identification possible.
Once an American has been identified, their remains are returned to their family through their respective service casualty office. They are returned home with full military honors and given the respect they earned through service and sacrifice for their country.
One more family has answers.
Soundbite: Dr. Goodman
Soundbite: Chris McDermott
Soundbite: Capt. Dobbins
Soundbite: Dr. Holland