Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin visited the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) facility on Joint Base Pearl Harbor - Hickam, April 30, 2021.
DPAA is unique as it is one of several agencies that fall directly under the supervision of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). This marked the first time Austin visited the Hawaii agency since becoming the nation’s principal defense policymaker and advisor, where he met with leaders and learned the agency’s vision, mission set, and goals.
"Your nation is grateful for what you do,” said Austin. "Your job is not without risk and on behalf of a grateful nation, we say thank you. Thank you for allowing me to view your facility today- it's quite impressive. It lets you know you're in a special place just by the way it's built and the thought that has been put into the design of it. What makes it truly special are the folks that work in the building."
During Austin’s tour, he was able to further understand operations, and meet the Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and civilians who work to uphold the nation’s promise of leaving no fallen comrade behind.
He also received a brief on the recovery process in the (artifacts room), saw the family viewing room suspended at the heart of the building, and walked through the scientific analysis lab where remains are identified. Agency leaders stressed, however, that diplomacy and integration with host country policies make recovery missions possible.
“We have access to 46 countries around the globe,” said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Darius Banaji, DPAA deputy director for operations. “We have adapted well to the challenges of COVID and have gained access back to many countries. We have teams right now in Belgium, Austria, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam working tirelessly to account for those still missing.”
Austin stressed the Indo-Pacific region is home to some of the most pressing national security issues of our time. The DoD is undertaking a significant effort, through the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, to designate and track investments that maintain a credible deterrent in the Indo-Pacific, reassure our Allies and partners, and reduce operational risks to U.S. forces.
During his visit, he witnessed the determination of the men and women who continue to drive DPAA forward, and the important role the agency plays in building partnerships with host nations.
“Like all the other domains, our relationships with our allies and partners are crucial; we are stronger when we are integrated,” said Austin. “We will reinvigorate and modernize these relationships by engaging with key allies and partners on priority bilateral and multilateral issues, strengthening collaborative planning, and increasing interoperability.”
The mission remains unchanged - to provide the fullest possible accounting for our personnel to their families and the nation, and he saw first-hand how that’s made possible.
"The care and commitment that you exhibit in each and every mission that you go on is just extraordinary,” the SECDEF said. “It's not lost on me that in years past we've lost members of our team while out on missions. It's dangerous, it's hard, it's tedious...but the fact that we have people like you who are committed to do what you're doing is just absolutely terrific and it sets us apart and it makes us different so I want to thank you for what you do, I want to encourage you to keep doing it and I really applaud the teamwork and the camaraderie."