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News & Stories
News | May 13, 2024

Paving The Way During Recovery Mission

By Staff Sgt. David Owsianka

Unit after unit, bucket after bucket, excavated soil is sifted through the screening stations. Military and civilian personnel are continuously on the lookout for items such as aircraft wreckage, life support equipment and possible osseous material in search of personnel who went missing almost 80 years ago.

As aircraft wreckage and life support equipment are found, that is when U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Raul Castillo, Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) life support investigator (LSI), comes into play. He helps identify various parts of the aircraft and life support equipment while providing his expertise to the scientific recovery expert (SRE) to assist in choosing the best path forward in searching for the missing personnel during a DPAA recovery mission in France from April to May 2024.

“I work hand-in-hand with the SRE by analyzing the life support equipment and aircraft material that we find throughout the excavation procedures to help determine the search process,” Castillo said. “It’s crucial for an LSI to be on each mission because we use our knowledge to help determine whether or not we are getting closer to the area of the plane where the missing personnel should be located.”

Castillo and other recovery team members are searching for aircrew members who went missing after their aircraft was shot down on the morning of D-Day, June 6, 1944. Field operations can last from 30 to 65 days, during which DPAA personnel will use a variety of equipment to search for evidence and possible osseous material that will assist in completing the mission.

“Searching for personnel who went missing on D-Day is a meaningful and important endeavor,” Castillo said. “Conducting recovery missions like this one allows for us and others to hopefully locate, find, and return the remains of these fallen personnel to provide closure to their families who are still hoping for answers about their loved ones.”

Recovery teams use standard field archaeology methods in the excavation as directed by the on-site SRE. An archaeologist, technical specialists, and other short term individual augmentees collaborate to ensure mission effectiveness throughout the recovery mission.

After the team arrived on site, the SRE established a grid system and divided the site into discrete units with stakes and strings (usually 4 by 4 meters). Each unit is then excavated systematically, one at a time, to search for the remains of the missing personnel. Every inch of unearthed soil is screened for potential remains, aircraft wreckage and life support equipment. From there, the LSI and SRE examine the contents of each unit to help the SRE determine where to search next.

“Castillo helps identify items that were close to the missing individuals that we are looking for, which can direct us to the best possible locations with potential to find remains,” said Kristen Baker, DPAA SRE. “The information that he provides me with helps guide the excavation strategy to the area with the highest potential probability of recovery.”

As the recovery team continues to work in search of the missing personnel, Castillo is honored to be with the group that is conducting the mission and hopeful that they will be able to bring the missing home.

“Being part of this mission has been a deeply rewarding and impactful experience because it is a way to honor the fallen service members who made the ultimate sacrifice during a war by searching for them,” Castillo said. “It would be a testament to the dedication, perseverance and expertise of everyone involved in this mission to be able to provide closure to the family members who have been waiting for answers for a very long time."

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Public Affairs Contact Information

Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency PAO
Washington, D.C.
2300 Defense Pentagon
Attn: Outreach and Communications
Washington, D.C. 20301-2300