DNA can be used to support the anthropology and archaeological analysis of recovered skeletal remains of missing service members or it can be used as the primary means of identification.
The Department of Defense uses specialized laboratory techniques to locate, copy, and analyze DNA sequences from the remains of our missing – such as bones or teeth. We then compare these DNA sequences to DNA reference samples that we have on file. DNA reference samples can come from either the missing individual or from a family member.
The process of donating a DNA reference sample is easy, painless and free-of-charge. A DNA kit is mailed to your home, containing a special swab for wiping the donor’s’ inner cheek to collect check cells. The collected sample is then placed in a pre-addressed and pre-paid envelope to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory – or AFDIL – in Dover, Delaware. AFDIL keeps your DNA information in an exclusive database used only during comparisons to remains associated with missing service personnel. Alternatively, family members can provide DNA reference samples in-person when they attend family member update events held periodically throughout the year in cities around the country.
Your DNA information is kept within a database at AFDIL. This database is used only within AFDIL and cannot be shared with other agencies.
Sometimes, DNA samples donated by family members directly result in an identification of remains in our laboratory. In other cases, DNA samples held in our database may be used in future comparisons, in the hopes that as new remains are received, we will find a matching family reference sample.
In other cases, reference samples can be used to exclude certain individuals from matching particular sets of remains; in some cases, enough exclusion can allow us to make a match.