MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency reports that there are 1,597 service members still missing in action from the Vietnam War. All told, more than 82,000 remain unaccounted for from World War II to present day conflicts.
The organization’s mission is to “provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and the nation.”
With limited permanent manpower, DPAA relies on teams of volunteers from all the branches of service to help them fulfill their obligation of accounting for all those still missing.
Staff Sgt. Benjamin Painter, the noncommissioned officer in charge of logistics plans at the 42nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, returned recently from volunteering with DPAA. He served as his DPAA team’s recovery NCO.
Air University Public Affairs interviewed Painter about his tour of duty with DPAA, which took him to the remote jungles of Vietnam. He is prohibited, however, from disclosing the results of his team’s searches.
AU PA: Why did you volunteer with DPAA?
Painter: I wanted to volunteer for this opportunity to be able to give back to our fallen brothers and sisters in arms that paid the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, as well as to do anything possible to maybe one day bring closure to a family member of a POW/MIA service member.
AU PA: When did you leave and return?
Painter: I left Montgomery on March 4, 2018, and returned on April 18, 2018.
AU PA: What type of training did you do before heading to Vietnam?
Painter: I received training in Hawaii at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam before going to Vietnam. We had basic mountaineering training and recovery NCO training and an anthropologist briefing on what to look for as far as evidence while screening.
AU PA: When did you leave for Vietnam from JBPHH? And where did you go once in country?
Painter: We left JBPHH on March 10, and I served as a recovery NCO supporting recovery operations searching for (one service member in each of two separate provinces).
AU PA: What did a typical day look like?
Painter: A typical day consisted of hiking to our dig site, site set-up and breakdown, building support structures, digging, working bucket lines and screening for evidence.
AU PA: How many people were on your team?
Painter: On site, there were 27 U.S. personnel, 16 Vietnamese Office for Seeking Missing Persons members and 90 local workers.
AU PA: Describe the team’s make up of U.S. personnel—all volunteers like you or a mixture of volunteers and DPAA members?
Painter: It was a mixture of DPAA organic team members as well as augmentees from the Air Force, Marines, Army and Navy.
AU PA: What did you gain from this experience, both professionally and personally?
Painter: Professionally, I gained working experience in a joint environment. Working with all the sister services to complete a unified goal was both exciting and rewarding. Personally, I gained even more respect than I already had for those that served in the Vietnam War. It was a solemn reminder that there are still many unaccounted for individuals in that theater of operations, and their families are still waiting for closure.
AU PA: Please share something memorable that the reader might find interesting?
Painter: The landscape in Vietnam was so stunning from the mountains to the coast, and it is definitely home to some of the friendliest people everywhere we went!
AU PA: Would you recommend this volunteer duty to other Airmen? If so, why?
Painter: I would absolutely recommend this duty to other Airmen. It provided a surreal experience, and I was humbled to be able to participate in such a great mission to bring our fallen comrades home.
For more information on the DPAA mission, visit www.dpaa.mil.