WASHINGTON, March 23, 2020 —Like much of the world, the coronavirus (COVID-19) has had a significant impact on the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), and in particular, its operations.
Ultimately, the Agency’s highest priority is the health, safety, and physical well-being of the assigned service members, civilians, and contractors, as well as the personnel of our partner organizations, all of whom contribute to the accomplishment of its worldwide mission. To this, DPAA is adhering to the Department of Defense (DoD) mandate of limiting all travel of personnel.
All field missions this month have completed or terminated earlier than planned, and personnel have returned home. Future missions are currently postponed or canceled, at least through early June.
"COVID-19 dynamics have forced us to radically alter our operations, but keeping our team safe, here at home and abroad, is paramount," said Kelly McKeague, DPAA Director. "At the same time, we are continuing to take actions with which our personnel can remain productive in their duties while maintaining the required distancing."
Both the Miami, Florida, and Little Rock, Arkansas, Family Member Updates (FMU), scheduled for March 21 and April 18, respectively, have been canceled. Family members will still receive their respective loss briefings provided by their service casualty officers and DPAA historians and analysts by telephone. This is the first time DPAA has ever canceled an FMU, and did so to protect attending families and other FMU participants.
The agency terminated several missions earlier than planned: DPAA's four recovery teams (RT) and two investigation teams (IT) and partners' two RTs and two ITs, affecting missions in Kiribati, the Philippines, Poland, and Vietnam. All personnel are home and in 14-day self-isolation. Other than a privately-funded underwater investigation off the coast of Latvia, there are no other field missions across the globe.
DPAA had to cancel six RTs and one IT affecting missions in Austria, Belgium, Italy, Laos, and the United Kingdom.
The agency postponed nine RTs and five ITs and partners' five RTs and nine ITs affecting missions in Austria, Cambodia, Germany, Guam, Italy, Kuwait, Laos, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Poland, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Sweden, and Vietnam.
The majority of the DPAA workforce in Washington, D.C., Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, and Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, are teleworking when possible so as to limit the gathering of people in offices and to limit how often they need to take public transportation. DPAA leaders are continually monitoring the situation and following guidance from the respective DoD leadership.
The DPAA Laboratory System has entered into a lab work/telework balanced plan designed to maintain progress on identifications while also mitigating risks of spreading the virus. The plan is appropriate for the current health protection levels of the three bases with laboratory facilities and will be evaluated weekly as to its overall effectiveness.
"The ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic requires we take the necessary precautions to prevent and mitigate the impacts of the virus, while ensuring we remain mission ready," said Rear Adm. Darius Banaji, DPAA’s Deputy Director for Operations. "We’ve postponed or canceled missions for the next several months; are focused on bring our teams home safely and concurrently, adjusting our daily operations to minimize possible exposure to COVID-19 while keeping the health and safety of our personnel and their families at the forefront."
DPAA officials encourage all family members to remain connected with their casualty service officers and visit DPAA’s website at WWW.DPAA.MIL for updates as the COVID-19 situation develops.
Despite the challenges imposed in mitigating COVID-19, DPAA remains committed to accomplish the solemn mission of accounting for our missing service members and civilians from past conflicts, and provide answers to their families.