SEPTEMBER 23, 2022 – Guest Speaker Deputy Director for Expeditionary Support Maj. Bishop Sparks, Defense Prisoner of War/Missing In Action Accounting Agency, shared the DPAA’s roles in recovery, identification and communication for closure during the POW/MIA Recognition Day observance Sept. 16 at the Frontier Conference Center.
Before introducing Sparks, Lt. Col. Mark Winker, Special Troops Battalion commander, said the remains of 70 service members have been recovered and repatriated to Kansas by the DPAA and an estimated 1,186 service members from Kansas remain missing in action.
Sparks said the third Friday in September is National Prisoner of War/Missing In Action Recognition Day. He said the observance gives the nation a moment to recommit to remembering POW and MIA service members and seeking answers for their families. He said he spoke at the event to represent his DPAA teammates working across 46 countries to account for nearly 82,000 service members. He then shared a video with the audience detailing the functions of the DPAA in research, recovery operations, identification and family events.
Sparks said the DPAA’s mission is to provide accounting for missing personnel in consideration of their families and the nation.
“We strive to give families what solace and answers we can by providing information about their loved one’s service and ultimately their sacrifices. We are determined to do whatever we can to bring these unaccounted-for DoD personnel home, and I am very proud to be a part of this mission. It’s very humbling to think that I can play a small part in this amazing, noble mission and hopefully provide answers to families who have been waiting for their loved ones to return home.”
Sparks said most unaccounted service members went missing during World War II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War and the Cold War. Sparks said the DPAA recently assessed that the remains of only about 38,000 missing service members can be recovered, as many are lost at sea.
Sparks said in recent months, visits to DPAA facilities have increased, which enable the agency to garner awareness and support from prominent visitors such as congressional staff and the secretaries of the Army and Navy. He said the DPAA also receives international attention, supporting its relationships with 46 countries.
“These combined efforts and navigation have enabled DPAA to further use progress in achieving the fullest possible accounting as we heavily rely on cooperative relationships to conduct these missions.”
Sparks said accountability from the Vietnam War is the agency’s first operational priority. As a result, it is taking advantage of high-level cooperation with relevant countries and focusing on sites pre-approved for excavation. Once more personnel are recovered from the Vietnam War, World War II is the DPAA’s next greatest priority. Sparks said the mission includes working through international partnerships to reach more excavation sites. He said the United States also plans to continue working with South Korea during operations and repatriations, a partnership that repatriated the remains of 68 Korean service members and six U.S. service members in an operation last year.
Sparks said in 2022, the DPAA conducted more than 100 investigative and recovery operations in 38 counties spanning Southeast Asia and Europe, emphasizing the importance of private partners during its missions.
He said his office is the force provider for DPAA missions employing organic personnel with a diverse range of specialties, including mountaineering and explosive ordnance disposal.
“Our primary purpose is to train, equip and man organic recovery and investigation teams for terrestrial and underwater operations.”
He said teams deploy up to 150 days per year alongside host nation officials and local employees, although recovery missions average one to two months depending on the complexity of an excavation site.
More than serving as ambassadors of the agency, Sparks said the most important role of DPAA members is communication with families. He explained that the agency holds six family member updates across the nation and meets with families as they await a loved one.
“This allows us to provide informational briefs on topics such as operations, scientific analysis, updates and agency initiatives. … I was afforded an opportunity to join a family’s individual case brief, and I was marveled by the family’s dedication and commitment to getting their loved one home. Every family in attendance at that family member update echoed their same dedication and commitment. It was truly remarkable, and I am equally marveled by the efforts of the men and women of DPAA.”
In closing, Sparks said that the most humbling part of the mission is reuniting a family with a loved one. He offered to answer questions from the audience and discussed the difficulty with excavation in acidic soil, challenges in interviewing as family members and witnesses pass away, and the agency’s role in disinterment. Sparks also explained that the United States has a unique commitment to finding unaccounted personnel, unlike any other country in the world. He encouraged service members to support the agency’s mission by connecting through the Assignment Interactive Module. He encouraged audience members who may be missing a loved one to offer a DNA sample for material matching during an investigation.
To learn more about the DPAA and how to get involved, visit https://www.dpaa.mil/.
By Charlotte Richter (Fort Leavenworth LAMP)