Home : Media : News : News Article View
NEWS | Nov. 10, 2015

State-of-the-Art Lab Helps Identify Lost Service Members

By xxxKatie Lange Defense Media Activity

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- Sifting through the remains of lost military members is no easy task, but it’s one researchers and scientists take very seriously at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency labs in Hawaii. Now, they have a brand-new building that will centralize their efforts to identify the lost.

The Senator Daniel K. Inouye Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency building is an $80 million, 140,000-square-foot facility on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam that will give researchers state-of-the-art laboratory, administrative and operational storage space.

Considering the work they do, it’s much needed. The agency manages the largest forensic anthropology lab in the world, where researchers sift through remains of missing service members from World War II, Korea and Vietnam, then try to match them to DNA and return them to their loved ones.

“It’s very, very important to provide answers to families. Families want to know what happened to their loved ones – the men who never came home,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Edward Reedy, a DPAA medical examiner.

DPAA Hawaii is currently scattered throughout several older buildings. The new facility will centralize operations and provide much more space, including an entire floor dedicated to lab work and forensic analysis that’s three times larger than what was previously available.

Since the advent of DNA technology in the early 1990s, the process of identifying remains has shifted from using anthropological techniques to pulling mitochondrial and nuclear (autosomal) DNA from skeletal material.  The process can take anywhere from months to decades, depending on the quality of the remains. It can be painstaking, too, since many of the lost were buried in mass graves or moved over time.

“When you’re going through thousands of sets of remains, there could be 10 sets for (one soldier) and 10 sets for somebody else. We have to be able to identify each set individually prior to making a determination,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Shelia Cooper, public affairs noncommissioned officer in charge at the DPAA.

She said 99 percent of servicemen from the Korean War and earlier conflicts don’t have DNA on file, so the agency invites family members to give a sample to test the remains against. But that can still be tough, especially for those who may not have biological family available.

“We have a genealogist who works cases just like that, where they go in and look at the family tree where their ancestries are so that we can possibly get a DNA sample that way,” Cooper said.

The agency has morphed a few times since it was the Army Graves Registration Service during World War II, but the mission has always been the same.

“This is a humanitarian mission,” Reedy said. “We provide a way to open the door and access countries that our government hasn’t previously been able to set up a dialogue with.”

Much of the agency’s work is conducted in foreign countries, including some that might not have the best relationships with the U.S.  DPAA officials said their work transcends politics, and that’s how they get their foot in the door.

“We have access to places where other facets of the U.S. military can’t go,” said Gary Shaw, the deputy director of policy and negotiations at the agency. “Although our primary mission is to bring back our missing servicemen and women, there are some positive spinoffs in our relations with other countries. [The mission is] something everyone can get behind. … It’s also a reminder for us and the host nations that we operate in of the terrible price of war that must be paid.”

The new, energy-efficient DPAA facility was named in honor of the late U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, who was instrumental in getting it built.

CONNECT WITH USINDOPACOM
Facebook

Like Us
Twitter
324,741
Follow Us

ENGAGE & CONNECT MORE WITH PACOM

                                                 

IN THE USINDOPACOM NEWS
U.S. INDOPACOM announces establishment of Joint Task Force Red Hill
220630-N-BD629-1009 CAMP H.M. Smith, Hawaii (June 30, 2022) Commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Adm. John C. Aquilino addresses members of the media during a press conference announcing the establishment of Joint Task Force Red Hill. JTF Red Hill, in close coordination with the State of Hawaii, will oversee the safe and expeditious defueling of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, demonstrating DoD’s commitment to remove fuel as quickly as possible, in a safe and informed manner, and with full transparency to regulators, intergovernmental partners, and with the people of Hawaii. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon M. Smith/Released)
July 1, 2022 - CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii – Adm. John C. Aquilino, Commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, announced the establishment of Joint Task Force Red Hill (JTF Red Hill) on June 30.The Secretary of Defense directed the standup of JTF...

Rim of the Pacific 2022 Officially Begins
Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 participants network at the Southern California opening ceremony. Twenty-six nations, 38 ships, four submarines, more than 170 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC from June 29 to Aug. 4 in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity while fostering and sustaining cooperative relationships among participants critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2022 is the 28th exercise in the series that began in 1971.
June 30, 2022 - U.S. Navy -- Twenty-six nations, 38 surface ships, four submarines, nine national land forces, more than 30 unmanned systems, approximately 170 aircraft and more than 25,000 personnel will train and operate in and around the...

Chief of Naval Operations, Japanese Chief of Staff Meet to Discuss Maritime Security
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday meets with Chief of Staff of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Adm. Ryo Sakai during an office call at the Pentagon, June 28. The two leaders discussed maritime security and ongoing efforts to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.
June 30, 2022 - WASHINGTON -- Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday hosted the Chief of Staff of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Adm. Ryo Sakai in Washington, D.C., for an office visit, June 28.The two leaders discussed...

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Peter Haas on Account of U.S. Independence Day 2022
Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Peter Haas on Account of U.S. Independence Day 2022.
June 30, 2022 - U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh -- Good afternoon, everyone! And thank you for joining us for this celebration of the 246th anniversary of U.S. independence. Independence Day in America is a day of red, white, and blue; a day of...

The U.S. Provides Immediate Assistance to Respond to Drought in Kiribati
US $500,000 in humanitarian assistance to respond to the drought across Kiribati
June 30, 2022 - SUVA, U.S. Embassy in Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, and Tuvalu -- The U.S., through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is providing US$500,000 in humanitarian assistance to respond to the drought across...